7 article number 7

Empowering the New Influencers

David Nesmith

The smart money is on inclusion. New freedoms mean exciting realities for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) community, and its buying power, digital connectivity, and cultural sway offer brands opportunities to endear themselves in meaningful ways with this influential consumer.

A graphic representing new opportunities for brands to target the LGBTQ community in different areas.For decades, brands have understood the importance of focused campaigns and content that is targeted to specific demographics, but these strategies have mostly appealed along gender, ethnic, and geographic lines. Recently, a host of high-profile and emotionally charged topics such as legislative bathroom bills (#WeJustNeedToPee), marriage equality (#NoH8 #LoveIsLove), bullying (#ItGetsBetter), and the Orlando shootings (#WeAreOrlando) have put gays, a demographic around since the dawn of man, squarely front and center in the public discourse, and brands have begun to take notice.

The gay revolution accelerated exponentially in recent years, and it wasn’t just televised. It was hashtagged and shared on social media, where everyone has a voice. Nowhere was this phenomenon more evident than when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage for same-sex couples is constitutional, and Google, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter all supported the advocacy. That day, #LoveWins became the top trending topic on Twitter, with more than 3.12 million tweets, many of which included images of the White House and other important buildings lit up in rainbow colors. On Facebook, users were given the choice to put a rainbow-striped filter over their profile picture to show their support, and Mark Zuckerberg himself shared a map that detailed the enormous growth in the number of LGBTQ groups on the social media site.

LGBTQ citizens have become more accepted by the general population, and some brands have begun to message directly to them as a way of increasing overall favorability.

The combination of purchasing power and the halo effect of LGBTQ-friendly strategies makes the business case for inclusion clear:

  • The combined buying power of U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults rose about 3.7 percent to $917 billion last year.
  • Seventy percent of LGBTQ consumers will pay a premium for a product that supports the LGBTQ community.
  • Seventy-eight percent of LGBTQ adults and their friends, family, and relatives will switch to brands that are known to be LGBTQ-friendly.
  • Forty-seven percent of consumers under 24 years old are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality-themed ad, compared to 30 percent of all age groups combined.
  • LGBTQs are also twice as likely as the general population to agree “they need to be connected to the Internet from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.”
  • LGBTQs are connected vocalists with usually more than one device within reach – and they actually want to receive ads on those devices.

“Standing for something as a brand is much more important today,” said Georgetown marketing lecturer Rohit Bhargava. LGBTQ rights “was something that was sort of on the fringes and it became totally mainstream,” he adds.

The Inclusion Pot of Gold

For smart brands, it’s no longer good enough to slap a rainbow on a once-a-year tweet. And today’s digital engagement strategies go way beyond parades and parties. Brands have enjoyed a “halo” effect by normalizing and “mainstreaming” the LGBTQ outreach through messaging that validates, celebrates, and takes a stand.

  • Honey Maid’s “This Is Wholesome” campaign celebrates the diversity of all families in America, including gay dads. After receiving some negative feedback, the brand found a shareable way through art and video to literally transform the printed messages of hate into love. Their fan community shared the video and in only three days the Love film was viewed 2,593,111 times. Google searches for “Honey Maid” increased by over 400 percent.
  • Lexus hosts the “It Got Better” series on its L/Studio digital channel. Through the firsthand success stories of LGBTQ celebrities, the series gives hope to LGBTQ youth that life can improve.
  • Target has a long history of inclusion and recently came under fire for its policies that protect LGBTQ people. To offer support, the powerful Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) organization began a digital campaign called #StandWithTarget. It shared Target’s statement supporting LGBTQ customers on its website and encouraged visitors to take a digital pledge and share it on their social media channels. In addition, GLAAD asked the community to #StandWithTarget by visiting a Target store to shop and taking a selfie for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat.

New Freedoms = New Opportunities to Align and Problem-Solve

LGBTQs have more opportunities to join the mainstream population than ever, resulting in new touchpoints for brands and opportunities to engage with and solve problems for consumers.


Fashion, entertainment, and spirits brands have traditionally been the first to reach out to the LGBTQ community, and gay hookup and dating apps are no different. Scruff and Grindr, to name a few, feature ads for underwear, vodka, and concert tickets, but in 2017 mainstream brands will find creative ways to reach this captive audience. These apps present very natural partnership and advertising opportunities for for-hire transportation companies, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, and even local attractions.


There is no such thing as a “traditional” same-sex wedding, and this opens the door for smart brands to establish themselves as the go-to gay wedding sources. Facebook and other social media platforms offer very specific targeting opportunities for products and services that are both traditional and nontraditional. Early out of the gay wedding gate was the City of New Orleans. It used Facebook’s advanced targeting options to serve ads that highlight the city’s vibrant LGBTQ culture and wealth of LGBTQ-related events to just the right targets.

An example of digital advertising targeting the LGBTQ community.

Google searches related to same-sex weddings (“LGBTQ-friendly wedding venues”) and traffic to online resources such as will increase exponentially in 2017. Smart vendors, planners, venues, and even churches will take advantage.

And wedding registries are not just for fine china and crystal anymore. In 2017, new categories such as outdoor equipment, gay travel, and other experience-related products and services will enter the consideration set, and brands that would never have considered a wedding registry will introduce them this year.

Parenting and Family

Perhaps the biggest opportunities for brands to leverage the new realities of the LGBTQ consumers center around family life. Same-sex parenting naturally follows same-sex marriage, and these new families will want to find each other and gay-friendly resources in larger and larger numbers.

Finding Each Other

Throughout time, the biggest challenge for the LGBTQ population has involved finding and connecting with each other. The local gay bar has traditionally been a safe gathering spot, but as the population has grown more digital, so have introductions. Now the vast majority of gays generally meet each other through social media and dating apps such as Scruff and Grindr.

In 2017, this trend will make its natural evolution into the next phase of the LGBTQ life cycle – parenting. New apps will be introduced that will use geotargeting to connect same-sex couples with others like them for kids’ playdates and even to develop small groups to share challenges and victories with each other. These apps will offer more opportunities for smart brands to engage and help empower these young families.

Finding Friendly Brands

As more and more children in same-sex parented families become school-aged, and as gender identity expression becomes a more accepted exploration for kids, neighborhoods and school districts will become as important as they are to traditional parents. Nontraditional families moving to new cities will place a high value on environments that have progressive anti-bullying and restroom policies. Online searches and consumer resources will direct these folks to the gay-friendly real estate and mortgage agents who will help navigate them to the most progressive neighborhoods, developments, and school districts in the area.

And once settled, our nontraditional families will be looking online to find decorators, furniture stores, and, yes, home improvement warehouses that welcome them with open arms and open doors. Social media campaigns featuring these types of families will begin to populate the right news feeds.

Hallmark has already jumped on this idea with a clever Christmas campaign that features a young gay couple unpacking in their first home. The spot was introduced on the company’s Facebook page to wide acclaim.

Hallmark "Keepsakes Ornaments" advertisement featuring a young gay couple.

Finding Online Resources

Meanwhile, digital resources addressing the special needs of new LGBTQ parents have struggled to keep up with the demand. In 2017 we will begin to see this rectified, as digital content and blogs dedicated to these new audiences will grow, offering brands new digital opportunities to connect with them. Diapers, over-the-counter medications, grocery store staples, children’s clothing, and school supply brands will begin to follow the leads of Tylenol and Campbell’s Soup and create gay-friendly content to share on these sites.

Financial Management and Retirement

Financial companies have recently recognized the need for life-planning products for the LGBTQ community. Prudential is one of the leaders in this area and has already established itself as the online financial thought-leader for the LGBTQ consumer, but any brand that wants to be involved in the financial decisions of the LGBTQ investor will pay attention to its research and follow its digital lead.

Prudential introduced its 2016/2017 LGBT Financial Experience report on its dedicated microsite and featured a video interview with none other than Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case that brought marriage equality to America. In it, he discusses progress for the LGBTQ community, while acknowledging barriers to true financial security remain.

The report also featured real data indicating that financial needs – including saving for retirement – for the LGBTQ community are the same as for the general population for 46 percent of those surveyed. In addition, 45 percent said they need to follow a different path to meet those same needs and urged financial advisors to consider the unique needs of LGBTQ clients.

Answering the call is Wells Fargo. Along with the College for Financial Planning, it has created the Accredited Domestic Partnership AdvisorSM (ADPA®) program to address the financial needs and considerations of domestic partners. Financial advisors from Wells Fargo Advisors with the ADPA designation have been trained on key issues affecting domestic partners and are dedicated to providing consumers with tailored investment-planning solutions. The banking company not only offers an online “ADPA Advisor locator” on its LGBTQ-focused microsite, but it also sponsors the “Money Minute” video series as well as a wealth of other relevant resource material on, a major source of news for the LGBTQ community.

It’s Not Too Late

The breathtaking speed and extent of the cultural shift – from open and sometimes physical hostility toward LGBTQ people to widespread acceptance and support – is unprecedented. A clear understanding of the context behind this complete reversal is essential for brands seeking authentic digital connections with LGBTQs, and the vast swaths of the population who stand in solidarity with them.

There’s a reason PayPal, the NBA, the NCAA, and many other companies have pulled business from North Carolina following the state’s recent passage of a sweeping anti-LGBTQ bill. Brands have begun to recognize that LGBTQ-friendly business is good business. The evolution of that mindset means more proactive engagement with this community, and this will happen online.

We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re digital. And it’s not too late for brands to earn loyal fans with a digital approach to inclusion that solves our problems and celebrates our humanity across all of our new life events.

  • David NesmithDavid Nesmith

    Public Relations
    An agency veteran in his 21st year in the industry (nine years with Richards Partners), David is known for his messaging skills and creative strategic thinking. He is equally at home in the boardroom and the newsroom, and has polished the reputations for a varied list of clients that includes Behringer, Hyatt Regency Dallas, JLL, JPI, Klyde Warren Park, Reunion Tower, and Wolfgang Puck Catering. David spent 12 years in the entertainment and fashion industries, and helped launch the House of Deréon collection for Beyoncé, the William Rast collection for Justin Timberlake, and the Sean by Sean Combs collection for Sean “Diddy” Combs.


  1. adelesdernier ·

    Fantastic information. Thank you.

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