Workplace Guides: Marketing

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Pioneering Marketing Initiatives

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Incorporating gay people in mainstream campaigns

An increasing number of businesses are incorporating lesbian and gay people into their mainstream print, online and broadcast marketing campaigns. This not only reaches the target group of consumers - gay people - but also a wider audience of friends, family and ethical consumers. In these campaigns, gay people are incorporated in an everyday manner that doesn't sensationalise gay or lesbian sexual orientation.

In 2009 Lloyds TSB were named Britain's Top Employer for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index and in 2010 they began to explore ways they could engage with their gay customers and potential customers. This led Lloyds TSB to be the first financial services company in the UK to include an image of a gay couple in a mainstream advertising campaign for its saving products. The business recognises that gay people are an integral, valuable part of their workforce and customer base. There has been an overwhelming positive reception both externally and internally to the campaign, generating much 'pink' media attention and online viral activity. 



Businesses commonly use celebrity endorsements in marketing campaigns. Featuring a celebrity widely known to be gay is another way in which a broader campaign can also speak directly to lesbian and gay people.

In 2004 L'Oréal signed Kyan Douglas of 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' as their spokesperson and consultant. Douglas became the cosmetics makers' spokesperson for all categories: cosmetics, skincare and hair products for both women and men. Douglas played a role in advising and educating consumers and was consulted on new product development. Using openly gay endorsers for both general and gay market advertising has helped L'Oréal achieve success in the gay market, which remains a key priority for the business. 

Royal Mail ran a Christmas advertising campaign in 2001 promoting its Packetpost delivery service. The commercial featured Sir Elton John admiring products on his computer screen. He then became quickly frustrated by his inability to access the products immediately. Dozens of postmen then burst into his house with brown paper parcels. The advert aimed to demonstrate that two thirds of all online purchases are delivered by Royal Mail.

Alongside more natural incorporation of gay people in mainstream campaigns, businesses also expressly reference gay sexual orientation in campaigns to appeal to gay consumers.

Since 2004 American Express has featured Ellen DeGeneres in its US 'My life. My card' ad campaign. The campaign offers a glimpse into Ellen's personal life and ambitions and has been run in print, online and adapted for a TV commercial. The TV spot entitled 'Animals' saw her fulfilling her childhood ambition of working with animals and was aired in the US in 2006. Ellen's endorsement enables American Express to establish an emotional connection with both gay and straight people and encourages consumers to learn more about American Express products and services.



In 2008, Pepsi launched an advert across the UK, which saw two men in a bar encourage their friend to chat to a woman. The man drank PepsiMAX for confidence to walk past one woman, then past another - model Kelly Brook - until he finally approaches a man at the end of the bar to the visible surprise of his friends. The advert engaged the audience by playing with the assumption of heterosexuality. The film was also used for online ads and activity across a number of digital media channels including Facebook, Sky Sports network, FHM and on the PepsiMAX web and mobile sites.

In 2007, IKEA ran a TV advert titled 'Living Room' that aired across America and included a collage of diverse families in their respective living rooms. The final shot was of an affectionate gay male couple sitting up against their sofa with their loving daughter as the voiceover says 'Why shouldn't sofas come in flavours, just like families?'. In a 2009 TV advert that aired in the UK for IKEA's new catalogue, a man had come home to find that various things in his flat had changed. The final shot revealed a woman, his former partner, cooking dinner for a new partner, a woman, as writing appeared across the screen that said 'It's change time'.



In 2010, McDonald's aired its 'Come as you are' commercial in France. In the ad, a teenage boy gazes at a class photo featuring his boyfriend, whilst telling his partner on the phone he 'misses him'. The father returned to the table from the McDonald's counter and said to his son that it's a shame that he's at a boys' college as otherwise he'd have all the girls chasing him. The boy smiles in response and the ad finished with the slogan 'Come as you are'. The ad was added to YouTube where a single stream has recorded over two million hits.

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Tailoring products or services to meet the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual consumers

Businesses can attract gay consumers through product adaptation, where additional products are developed to respond to the specific needs or tastes of lesbian and gay consumers. By investing in specific products and services, brands are demonstrating a genuine interest in that consumer group and can benefit from the long-term relationship that develops. Furthermore, it engages the consumer with the business's wider offering, making him or her more likely to try and recommend other products and services in the company portfolio. Evidence indicates that gay consumers are more likely to keep up with the latest trends than their heterosexual counterparts - making them an ideal target group to introduce new products to.

In 2005, The Co-operative Funeralcare worked with the Pink Weddings family and looked at the experiences of their gay customers. They found that gay clients can be particularly worried when making funeral arrangements as they perceive the funeral industry lacks progressive thinking around sexual orientation. In response, The Co-operative formed a link with Pink Partings, part of the Pink Weddings family. The Pink Partings website offers a service designed specifically for gay people arranging the funeral of a partner or for themselves. It provides a safe space where lesbian and gay people can be assured that they will not be judged during a time when support is needed the most.

Thomson created its Freedom Collection of holidays and launched an e-brochure in January 2010 after recognising the need to offer their gay customers more choice and more security. The collection means that gay customers can be assured that all its hotels have the GayComfort seal of approval. GayComfort is an online accreditation programme, which means that frontline hotel staff have received training to ensure the avoidance of incidents such as the assumption that a same-sex couple might want twin beds rather than a double.



ABSOLUT was one of the earliest brands to directly engage with gay consumers through community-specific advertising and promotions. Some of their campaigns focused on changing the design of the bottle to appeal more to gay consumers. This included a limited edition rainbow design bottle to mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and to celebrate four decades of gay pride, alongside it's 'NO LABEL' bottle that was designed to challenge prejudice.


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Engaging and advertising in 'pink' media

Advertising in 'pink' media - media primarily for and about lesbian, gay and bisexual people - both online and in print is one way for businesses to directly access and engage gay consumers. Simply including 'pink' media outlets in your distribution list for press releases is another way to increase coverage of your brand's products and services amongst gay audiences.

Businesses should be clear that they are able to demand of 'pink' media outlets the same standards that they would apply to mainstream media such as verification of circulation and that comment boards are appropriately moderated.

Often businesses simply run the exact same advertising campaign in 'pink' media that they are also using in mainstream media to sell their services or products.

Ford promoted the Ford Kuga in the Pride Beside the Sea brochure in conjunction with the Brighton Pride event. Additionally, Ford advertises in gay web-based media such as and has also advertised in specialist publications such as Gay Times, Attitude and Refresh. Ford considers this to be a key way to connect with gay consumers and recognises that as a result of these campaigns the company's external profile has been raised and its reputation as an employer of choice has also subsequently been enhanced.



London 2012 advertised in the June 2010 edition of Fyne Times to celebrate being two years away from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The advert encourages the UK public to plan their Games to ensure they get the most of the Olympics.

Deloitte are a sponsor of the Royal Opera House who host the annual Deloitte Ignite Event, a contemporary arts festival. In 2009, Deloitte promoted the weekend finale by featuring in Attitude online where viewers were able to click on a link through to Deloitte's Facebook page which supplied information on the services they provide.

Brands sometimes tailor the message or imagery of their general marketing to sit within 'pink' media. The most effective of these strategies are those that have carefully considered the message the campaign sends and the visuals it utilises. To connect with gay consumers these strategies use adverts that are creative and avoid tokenistic imagery and negative stereotypes. Getting it wrong risks putting across the message that a brand has failed to understand the needs and wants of gay people.

The most successful campaigns have been those that have delivered the message of being gay-friendly explicitly. Gay consumers can detect if an advert intended for a straight audience is being used to advertise to a gay market, which sends the message that the brand is not willing to pledge its full commitment to gay people.

In 2005, L'Oréal Paris introduced its Men's Expert skin care line to target both gay and heterosexual men. The campaign introduced the brand into gay and mainstream markets across the UK and US. In Britain the advert appeared in gay magazine Attitude, a handsome man carries the headline, 'You think you look the business. He thinks you look overworked.' 

ABSOLUT NO LABEL was a unique limited edition naked bottle, launched to coincide with a campaign called 'In An ABSOLUT World There Are No Labels', an initiative which challenged prejudice against LGB&T minorities by encouraging consumers to discard their labels and look beyond the obvious in order to make the world a more diverse, vibrant and respectful place. A partnership with Attitude magazine in both print and digital format was struck. The print ad featured on page one of the magazine alongside a duplication of the magazine's front cover on the inside cover minus the Attitude title and all of its labels. The same concept was worked online, with the Attitude logo on its homepage dissolving into the 'NO LABEL' message.



The Metropolitan Police released a print ad in 2005 to raise awareness of the occurrence of domestic violence in lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships. The ad appeared in The Pink Paper, Boyz, QX, Gay Times and Diva and it was also reproduced as an A3 and A4 poster and distributed by officers locally. The ad reinforced the Metropolitan Police's commitment to pursue and arrest perpetrators of domestic violence and aimed to encourage more gay people to come forward and report these crimes. The Metropolitan Police wanted gay people to be assured that the police would deal with the report safely and to know that they could request to speak to specially trained officers across London.


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Engaging with gay communities

Businesses that successfully build loyalty amongst gay people invest back into gay communities. Businesses that actively reach out to engage gay people in a meaningful way benefit from increased understanding of these markets, which helps inform future outreach campaigns. These activities raise the brand profile not only amongst gay consumers but their friends and family too.

Initiatives to engage with lesbian, gay and bisexual communities include:

  • Sponsorship of local, national, and/or international events
  • Product placement and/or give-aways at events
  • Hosting launch events in gay venues
  • Presence in online gay communities

Partnering with community organisations which have a significant new media presence can offer businesses direct access to an established gay audience. For example, Stonewall has almost 20,000 monthly e-bulletin readers, over 16,000 Facebook friends and 5,000 Twitter followers, and over 600 member organisations representing 5 million employees across Britain.

To launch the Freedom Collection, Thomson ran a launch night in a gay venue in London, which attracted over 40 pieces of advertorial activity both online and offline with national newspapers also picking up on the event. They utilised guerrilla marketing activities to engage gay consumers, which included an online model search and a presence at London Pride with models carrying the 'Freedom' branding on their chests pushing out flyers. Thomson Freedom also took out advertising in Boyz, G3 and Attitude magazine and provided product give-aways at gay venues.

Brands Easyjet and Schweppes have targeted the online community, placing their ad campaigns on popular blogs amongst gay people, and Schweppes ran a high profile campaign on the AfterEllen website in August 2010, where clicking on the banner drove traffic through to the Schweppes microsite where the consumer was encouraged to buy a bottle of 'Abbey Well' and claim a free swim at participating pools across Britain.

Barclays take a sustained and multi-faceted approach to engaging gay communities. They sponsor the Euro Gay Sailing Regatta and Stonewall Football Club (a team set up in 1991 to encourage gay men to play competitive football). They have also sponsored Stonewall's ground-breaking research into homophobia in football and have supported Stonewall in the production of Get Hitched! A Guide to Civil Partnership. This included the promotion of its content and ran a roadshow of events in Brighton, Birmingham, London and Manchester aimed at helping gay people to understand how their personal and financial relationships may be affected.

American Express has supported the Stonewall Brighton Equality Walk for four years, providing branded t-shirts, goody bags and water bottles. American Express held adverts in the gay and local press, their logo was clearly displayed on the Stonewall website and Facebook page, and they were also recognised for providing the top fundraising prize. Online advertising was also placed on Real City Network sites and numerous event listings. Aligning their brand with a reputable organisation like Stonewall allowed American Express to reach an extensive existing network of gay people and potential consumers.

As part of its talent search Simmons & Simmons LLP wanted to engage better with gay university students. The leading solicitor's network sponsored the 'Q-Ball' organised by the Durham University LGB&T network. The 'Q-Ball' is the only such event in the North East and is attended by students and alumni from Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Teesside Universities. Simmons & Simmons LLP sponsored the event to demonstrate the support of the legal sector for gay issues in one of the key universities where they recruit. Their branding was on the tickets and website for the event.

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