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What Big Companies Can Teach Us About Digital Marketing to the LGBT Audience
Digital marketing to LGBT audiences isn't a one-shot deal. It requires social action, persistence and more than just a clever ad. Through the years, thousands of companies, large and small, have at least dipped their toe in LGBT marketing with creative inclusive messaging through advertising, commercials and press releases.
Major brands in food, hospitality, technology and other sectors have had their share of stumbles and successes. The big guys' lessons can teach marketing basics to today's small businesses. Consider the following takeaways from big brand attempts to reach out to the LGBT community.
Tell stories: Marriott
Since the 2015 Supreme Court same-sex marriage victory, it seems every hospitality company has been pitching harder to the LGBT community. All said, hospitality is one of the most accepting industries on both the human resources policy and marketing fronts for LGBT audiences.
In hospitality marketing, Marriott's #LoveTravels campaign stands out. The web and social media campaign uses one-minute video stories about people from all walks of LGBT life — athletes, actors and everyday people. It's a daring move to place storytelling above all, but the well-designed campaign works. It's a classic soft sell with very few invitations to click for a vacation experience or Marriott logos overwhelming the page.
Takeaway: Even small businesses have access to tremendous tools to build amazing websites. If you step away from the hard sell and focus on real, inclusive storytelling through blogs or videos, you may be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Be boldly creative: Heineken
Heineken is a socially nimble brand in the rather testosterone-driven beer market. They don't always get it right, but you can applaud the company for having pressed forward with inclusive messaging for quite some time now.
Its April 2017 “Worlds Apart" short film/commercial, part of its #OpenYourWorld campaign, runs for more than four minutes and pairs people with opposing political and social views, among them a transgender woman with a transphobic man. Initially, the pair work together to build a table, then there's a reveal of their beliefs and the question posed: Will they share a beer together? They do.
Some in the LGBT community, however, pointed out the danger in having a transgender woman sit in a room with a transphobe. Other objectors thought the subject matter was diminished by simply talking over a beer. Heineken seemed to embrace the positive and negative response and looks to be pressing forward with creative messaging.
Where Heineken deserves more credit, however, is in something it didn't do. In 2014, it dropped sponsorship for the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, which had a gay ban at the time. Competitor Guinness also pulled its sponsorship and the gay ban was later reversed.
Takeaway: If your ad or commercial fails, learn and keep trying, and when you have the opportunity to make a sincere public statement, be bold about it.
Simple is powerful: Oreo
The rainbow Oreo, created in 2012, is an image worth a million words, one that's still being talked about today. Not bad for a single social media post. Oreo's creative, simple design still lives on as a fearless statement of support, even with the first reaction resulting in numerous boycotts. Kraft and Oreo did their part and stood strong by the message.
Takeaway: Don't underestimate the power of one simple creative idea. Use it, re-use it, as long as your audience resonates with it — even if it angers your grandparents.
Match your policy to your message: Ikea
Like Heineken, Ikea has long put its money where its mouth is. A trailblazer with its 1994 ad featuring two gay males, Ikea was a part of the conversation when it was barely on anyone's radar.
Since then, the furniture retailer has also regularly ranked high on the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. That's not to say LGBT marketing has always been smooth sailing for Ikea. In 2013, its Russian stores endured a boycott from protestors angered by its caving to anti-gay Putin laws when it removed a magazine ad with a lesbian couple in it.
Even still, Ikea deserves high marks for extending benefits coverage to domestic partners, including health and medical, since 1995, and as of 2016 its medical plan includes gender reassignment surgery coverage.
The takeaway: Even if you can't be first in your industry with inclusive marketing, you can still show how your internal policies prove your point. That said, does your company happen to be in one of these least LGBT-friendly industries? Then, you could very well be in a leading position. Think: A general contractor boldly goes rainbow.