LGBTQ Marketing and Advertising: Best Practices

The Commercial Closet Association recommends:

  • Be inclusive and diverse
    Whenever people are shown, include LGBTQ individuals, family members, friends and couples that reflect varied ages, races and genders, etc. Language references to family or relationships should not only include heterosexuals.
    GLAAD Media Reference Guide
  • Be sensitive to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender stereotypes and avoid positioning LGBTQ people as a perceived threat for humor
    Advertising often stereotypes, but beware of over-simplifying. An unbalanced depiction of extremely effeminate gay men or extremely masculine women are old ideas that alienate many.
  • Do good market research
    When conducting market research or forming new mainstream campaigns, LGBTQ perspectives should be considered and included. Don't limit yourself to male-targeted research and messages. For example, Subaru surveyed its consumers and found a strong lesbian base.
  • Go national
    Consumers outside of major coastal cities are often improperly considered lacking the sophistication to handle LGBTQ themes.
  • Be consistent and confident
    Modifying or withdrawing ads after negative criticism from conservative groups suggests waffling and alienates LGBTQ consumers. Respond to any criticism with business rationales, such as diversity and the bottom line. Avoid time-restricted airings of commercials unless they legitimately deal with sexual situations that are inappropriate for youth.
    Commercial Closet Association Best Practices

Avoiding Stereotypes and Clichés

When marketing to the LGBTQ community, it is important to avoid using stereotypes and clichés that alienate and re-enforce negative images of LGBTQ individuals. How do you depict gays and lesbians while avoiding stereotypes or clichés? The Commercial Closet Association recommends using:

  • Real gay or lesbian individuals, including openly gay celebrities or athletes. Authenticity goes a long way.
  • Same-sex pairings in everyday situations, such as at home, driving, shopping or eating.
  • Same-sex pairings with physical affection.
  • Utilize verbal, text, or graphic references to sexuality.
  • Unexpected twists. Counter time-worn clichés and add other sources of humor.

Bisexuals are rarely shown at all. When they are, however, it is usually as duplicitous cheaters. To avoid this problem, try using:

  • Keep it ambiguous. Do not clearly define relationships between people.
  • Utilize verbal, text, or graphic references to bisexuality.

In marketing campaigns, transgender people cover a range of identities: male-to-female , female-to-male, drag queen, "bad drag," transsexual and cross-dresser. Most common in advertising are male-to-females, who are typically depicted as "deceptive" if they pass as women, or "frightening" if they do not. "Bad drag" refers to intentionally unconvincing straight men half-dressed as women, such as a men wearing wigs and mustaches simultaneously. This type of person is often used as a joke or with a mock-subversive motive like spying. Cross-dressers are depicted as heterosexual men "caught" in women's undergarments. Drag queens are portrayed as men with exaggerated effeminate mannerisms who impersonate women. Transsexuals have had a sex-change operation. Female-to-males and androgyny are rarely depicted in advertising. To more accurately portray transgender people, try:

  • Incorporating transgender people in everyday situations, not as a punch line, but with acceptance as a twist.
  • Obtaining authenticity by using a real transgender person or real female impersonator.
  • Accurately depicting female-to-male individuals, masculine women and "drag kings."

LGBTQ Communications Firms