Brands Are Scared to Use LGBTQ+ Marketing That Works

Photo of two persons laughing and drinking a beverage underneath text that says "Brands Are Scared to Use LGBTQ+ Marketing That Works Exclusive data from the ANA finds marketers know inclusive ads make a difference, but fear their backlash" on a white background with AdWeek branding at the top.

Brands Are Scared to Use LGBTQ+ Marketing That Works

Exclusive data from the ANA finds marketers know inclusive ads make a difference, but fear their backlash

By Jason Notte

Brands know LGBTQ+ marketing helps grow their business—they’re just afraid to use it.

A study released exclusively to ADWEEK by the ANA found that despite 82% of marketers believing there’s still significant room for more marketing that includes LGBTQ+ people, just 55% of brands actively marketed to or included the LGBTQ+ community in their marketing.

The study found that such marketing efforts positively impacted brand perception (97%) and increased brand loyalty (83%). While 93% of marketers think it is important to represent the LGBTQ+ community in their ads—up from 79% in 2021—another 82% think more positively of a company that actively markets to LGBTQ+ consumers (up from 66% three years ago).

“The message is clear: There is both a need and an opportunity for deeper inclusion strategies with LGBTQ+ consumers,” said Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA.

But that was before a wave of anti-LGTBTQ+ legislation swept across the United States and brands including Bud Light and Target shrank away from commitments to LGBTQ+ consumers amid controversy. Though the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) suggests much of the brand damage was self-inflicted—an AIMM survey released in October found that 77% would stop buying from brands that back away from promises to diverse groups and causes—once brave allies let fear guide their LGBTQ+ marketing mission.

Brands were once worried about the cost of inclusive marketing campaigns (44% in 2021) or getting them wrong (50%). By August and September of 2023, when the ANA conducted its survey of 101 advertisers, there was more fear of potential consumer blowback or not finding brand-safe environments (39% each) than of cost or awkwardness (29% and 25%, respectively).

“Brands today are making decisions to step away from inclusivity because they’re hearing the message from 11% to 13% of the population, which is very unfortunate,” said Lisette Arsuaga, co-founder of AIMM. “The majority of the population expects greater inclusivity when it comes to seeing individuals represented in ads.”

The value of showing up

Emily Stutzman, co-owner and CEO of Portland, Oregon-based creative agency Happylucky, noted that brands have also been afraid of any LGBTQ+ campaign that doesn’t produce immediate results and hit short-term KPIs. Her agency has seen brands invest less in year-round grassroots efforts during the last year and show more interest in one-off media spending.

“One of the ways that brands can win is to show up all year round by being in spaces with people and being truly inclusive,” Stutzman said. “It’s making it so much less authentic to say that their brand supports all these causes if they aren’t really showing up and meeting the community and being a friend to the person instead of just a brand.”

Investment advisory LGBT Capital estimates global LGBTQ+ spending power at $4.7 trillion. In the U.S., the 7.2% of people who identify as LGBTQ+, according to Gallup, is almost double the percentage it was a decade ago and is far higher among Gen Z (20%). The demand from LGBTQ+ audiences is there; the willingness of brands to meet them in places where everyone is comfortable is somewhat more elusive.

Seeking the right spaces

According to the ANA study, most of the creative that featured LGBTQ+ casting was found on the internet and in more targetable media, including social media (86%), websites (66%), digital and retail media (66%), and influencer content (55%). However, only 34% of marketers used LGBTQ+-targeted media in their marketing mix.

Rana Reeves—who founded the RanaVerse creative agency in 2018 and, as CEO, has worked with brands including Coach, Airbnb and Citi to address cultural issues—suggests delving into LGBTQ+ should start “in spaces where you’re warm.” That could mean geographic locations like major cities or social platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

“If someone’s really entrenched, I’m just not sure anymore whether it’s worth the energy to try and change that,” Reeves said. “They need to at least be open to dialogue and change, and some of that comes over time. It’s come through popular culture, it’s come through entertainment, it’s come through understanding and meeting LGBTQ people … it’s come through emotions that people can understand, like love or joy or hope.”

View original article ➞

Get notified About new resources

To stay up to date with the latest multicultural marketing webinars, research, ebooks and news, send us an email here:

Email us