Industry leaders talk about advertising and the LGBT audience, how brands should be engaging the community in the coming years, and more.


One thing that can consistently spark an outbreak of flop sweats among most marketers is the ongoing challenge of keeping up with the pace of culture. Chasing the ever mobile, multi-device consumer across new technologies, platforms and behavior. What does modern parenthood look like? How's our Periscope strategy coming along? Is everything we think about Gen Z wrong? (Probably.)

But culture obviously spans much more than just technology and age demographics, it also includes changes in social norms. A recent Pew studyfound that since 2001, American public opinion towards gay marriage has essentially flipped, with 55% approval, compared with 57% opposition 14 years ago. This shift is evident in how brands are more openly embracing and approaching the LGBT community. According to a 2014 Google Consumer Survey, more than 45% of consumers under 34 years old said they're more likely to do repeat business with an LGBT-friendly company, and 47% of consumers under 24 are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality-themed ad. And if polled survey results aren't your bag, seeing LGBT buying power in the U.S. last year estimated at $884 millionmight get your attention.

Over the last few years, we've seen an expanding list of brands creating smart, creative and inclusive marketing campaigns. From Burger King'sProud Whopper and Honey Maid's wholesome family, to a New Zealand bank's GAYTM and an Airbnb short film on traveling and tolerance.

To mark October's LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day on October 11, I asked a collection of leading names in brand creativity about their favorite LGBT-friendly ads from over the years, the changes in advertising attitudes towards the LGBT audience, how they see brands’ approach to engaging the community in the coming years, and more.

Gerry Graf, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Barton F. Graf 9000: Ikea did a spot in 1994 featuring a gay couple buying furniture for their apartment. Last year, Honey Maid graham crackers featured a gay couple and their baby. Both ideas work on the premise that there is something special and brave about a company featuring a gay couple. You would have hoped that showing a gay couple wouldn’t have been a big deal today. Apparently attitudes haven’t changed much in 20 years.

Val DiFebo, CEO, Deutsch NY: With the development of social media and real-time, far-reaching conversations taking place, we’ve seen a major shift over the past few years in attitudes and overall acceptance and inclusion of the LGBT community. It’s a fascinating development that is gaining momentum quickly. Brands are beginning to react to this shift in consumer behavior and are becoming more forward thinking, embracing yet another segment of society. There has also been more awareness generated surrounding LGBT-based advertising, becoming more mainstream and "acceptable" within society. Five to ten years ago, this topic was considered taboo and one that brands often shied away from talking about.

Tim Maleeny, Chief Strategy Officer, Havas Worldwide: Over the past five to 10 years there’s been a dramatic shift in positive feeling towards the LGBT community. You can see that growing awareness and acceptance reflected in film, television, and popular culture in general. A decade ago in the U.S. only a minority of Americans were supportive of same sex marriages, but now it’s nearly two-thirds of the general population. That’s a big shift in a short period of time, and it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for brands to be more inclusive.

Anselmo Ramos, Co-Founder and CCO of DAVID Miami: I think brands have become more open about publicly supporting the LBGT community. In the past, brands wouldn't touch the theme, or would do it in a subtle or metaphorical way. There are no metaphors anymore.

Christopher Warmanen, Creative Director at Leo Burnett: It’s more than liquor and travel brands that are targeting the LGBT community. Now it’s consumer packaged goods, greeting cards, fast food and insurance. Also, advertising targeting the LGBT community—especially on TV—used to be more subtle. You weren’t 100% sure if they were targeting the audience or if it was just a happy accident that it resonated. Sometimes, it was a little cue like someone wearing a rainbow pin or bracelet that said it was talking to the community on purpose. But this was still a form of hiding and keeping LGBT advertising in the closet.

One place LGBT-targeted advertising has changed the least is representations of the "T" in "LGBT": transgender. But because that’s a hot topic right now in the media, I hope that’ll change and we’ll see more transgender people, too, like we saw in the Hallmark video created by Leo Burnett Chicago earlier this year.

Gina Grillo, President and CEO, The Advertising Club of New York:Advertising to the LGBT community didn't even exist five to 10 years ago. Today, as marriage equality is becoming a right for all people in our country and as Caitlyn Jenner shines the light on her journey, we are, as a people, more open to talking about what makes us unique. With this has come more openness in the advertising industry to engage and speak to groups that were not recognized before.

Chris Neff, Executive Producer, Digital at Tool of North America: I think the biggest change in LGBT marketing is the movement away from "careful" language. The range of products/services being advertised has grown and marketers are being more overt in their targeting. Furthermore, brands are taking a stance on social issues by backing the LGBT community which would have once been deemed too radical for a lot of major advertisers.