Published by Annabelle JUBIN, KEDGE BS PGE student, supervised by Paola GIOIA, KEDGE Ph.D. Student and Research Assistant
This article wins KEDGE Inclusivity Price
In June, 'Pride Month', companies inevitably start putting rainbows on their social media pages, hoping to sell something to the LGBTQ+ community.
Is the simple appearance of a rainbow enough? In this research, the aim is to understand what criteria LGBTQ+ consumers have in considering whether or not a brand is credible when it defines itself as 'gay-friendly'.
For this purpose, 8 people from the LGBTQ+ community were involved in a focus group in order to evaluate their opinion and perception of different advertisements clearly targeting the LGBTQ+ community, and thus understand which brands were 'credible' for them.
Analysis of the results revealed aspects that brands should take into consideration when trying to be inclusive towards the LGBTQ+ community: cultural competency, consistency, sincerity, and normalcy.
The focal point of the research, an aspect that emerged from the literature review and is confirmed during the empirical work, is the “need for normality” that LGBTQ+ people look for in advertisements, their desire to be included in a “normal” way.
In fact, LGBTQ+ consumers have a great desire to be portrayed as “normal” in mainstream media (Dhoest and Simon, 2012) and express a high level of frustration with the way they are represented in the media (Freymiller, 2005).
For example, lesbian women express a desire to see fictional lesbians with a more feminine representation when compared to what is shown in the television series The L Word (Kern, 2012). Similarly, a frequent topic during the focus group was the need to portray LGBTQ+ people in a 'normal' way and the appreciation of 'simple and effective' advertisements, such as the following Ray-Ban advertisement.
On the other hand, respondents said they were tired of companies waving rainbow flags without any meaning, as in the following VISA post.
Comparing the VISA and Ray-Ban advertisements, respondents said that they preferred the one where the message was clear, with two men holding hands and the slogan “Never Hide”, than the one where the brand added a rainbow and compared love to financial transaction. One of the focus group participants, a bisexual woman, said about the Ray-Ban ad: “The ad feels normal, no rainbow flags everywhere, simply to men being able to hold hands on the street”, explaining that in reality, gay people don’t walk around every day with a rainbow flag.
She added that “The Ray Ban one was the best because there is no flag, it doesn’t surf on the pride month trend and it doesn’t feel fake.” Therefore, VISA supported the LGBTQ+ community by placing a rainbow flag on its ad and using the slogan 'Love. Accepted everywhere', not realizing, however, for some LGBTQ+ people the mere use of the flag is considered superficial and that they expect more than a post five days before the end of June.
In understanding when an advertisement can be considered 'normal', contributions from participants were helpful, such as 'Sometimes it gives us a better opinion when it is not the whole subject of the advertisement, because we also need normality', made by a transgender man, or 'I don't like it when it is too explicitly gay, because it looks stereotyped', as a bisexual woman states.
This follows what has been found in the literature, i.e. the search for inclusivity in a less 'colourful' way, away from bright rainbow flags but closer to normalized representation, as is done for the rest of society (Blackburn, 2019).
Advertising plays an important role in this normalization process as it enables the inclusion of the lifestyles of the LGBTQ+ community in society (Tsai, 2011). To do this and develop trust on the part of the LGBTQ+ community, 'cultural competence' is an important factor so that companies do not advertise blindly. (Ciszek, 2020) To communicate well and create messages that engage them, Ciszek (2020) explains that companies need to know the beliefs and values of members of this community, as well as educate themselves about their life experiences.
This explains what was frequently expressed during the focus group, i.e. the feeling that the brand did not understand the participants' experiences at all, resulting in their poor opinion of the advertising. Some participants even could not understand the meaning of some advertisements while others found them offensive. Thus, these advertisements failed to understand their audience and to connect LGBTQ+ culture to the product through a coherent narrative.
- Blackburn, S. J. (2019). Reflecting a queer reality: Understanding bisexual and transgender responses to mainstream LGBT advertisements (Doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon).
- Dhoest, A., & Simons, N. (2012). Questioning Queer Audiences. The handbook of gender, sex, and media, 260-276.
- Ciszek, E. (2020). “We are people, not transactions”: Trust as a precursor to dialogue with LGBTQ publics. Public Relations Review, 46(1), 101759.
- Freymiller, L. J. (2005). Separate or Equal? Gay Viewers Respond to Same-Sex and Gay/Straight Relationships on TV. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, New York
- Kern, R. (2012). Andro‐Phobia?. The Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Media, 241-259.
- Tsai, W. H. S. (2011). How Minority Consumers Use Targeted Advertising as Pathways to Self-Empowerment. Journal of Advertising, 40(3), 85–98