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S&E Insights: Sponsors Take Pride In Their LGBT Marketing Strategy

S&E Insights: Sponsors Take Pride In Their LGBT Marketing Strategy

Toronto is Pride headquarters this week, as nearly 2 million people gather for WorldPride 2014 hosted by Pride Toronto, one of the largest LGBT festivals in history.  And the while Pride festivities are an explicit celebration around LGBT acceptance, the festival is a continuation of a 2014 that saw heightened interest and coverage for LGBT issues, specifically related to non-sexuality specific sponsorship properties. Jason Collins becoming the NBA's first openly gay athlete launched a conversation around basketball and diversity. Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Ram in the NFL Draft has shone a light on acceptance in football locker rooms.  From the Sochi Olympics, where IOC partners were called upon by consumer advocates and media members to take a position on Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation, to major beer sponsors pulling out of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade after gay and lesbian groups were not allowed to march openly, 2014 has seen no shortage of crossovers between sport and society. This week brands are embracing the celebration that is WorldPride and bringing a more optimistic tone to their LGBT marketing by speaking to what can be done versus what hasn't been done.

Rising Activity in Canada:

LGBT causes have caught the attention of marketers for a number of important reasons, both internal and external to their organizations:


- Buying power over-indexed to the general population: the average LGBT person has 22% more spending power than the average Canadian.

- Greater mass acceptance for the brand


- Alignment to corporate values

- Be seen as an equal opportunity employer

An examination of Canada's highest spending sponsor category - Banking - can provide a snapshot of the emphasis that brand's are placing on LGBT-themed marketing this Pride season. Within the F.I. sector, brands who are passive on LGBT issues can often appear to beconspicuous by their absence. In Canada, TD holds a strong ownership position in the area, both within and outside the banking category. While TD is an official WorldPride sponsor, all of the Big 5 have targeted June 2014 as a period to ratchet up their pro-LGBT narrative, positioning for share of voice on the issue:

Given the level of brand activity in the marketplace during Pride, S&E provides key best-practice considerations for marketers seeking to bring a pro-LGBT message to the marketplace:

Make it 365 - Opportunistic brands won't achieve sustained impact: Brands who view LGBT acceptance as a fashionable marketing territory are underestimating consumers. Leveraging the timeliness of the LGBT movement during Pride Week by "rainbow-washing" your brand is a short-term, PR-driven tactic that can often be seen as opportunistic and shallow by not just the LGBT community, but with mass Canada. To gain attribution as a brand, advocacy and support for a social issue must be a sustained effort. LGBT discrimination is relevant for more than just nine calendar days per year, and it was relevant before 2014, a year that has been a tipping point in public opinion on LGBT issues (Environics reports that 70% of Canadians support gay marriage). A brand who displays a dedicated commitment to driving social change before it achieves mainstream acceptance can form a deep, emotional connection with consumers who share their values. Sponsorship is megaphone that a brand can use to broadcast their values to the world and truly authentic their positioning on an issue. Brands like TD who had the wisdom to support the movement through partnerships with Pride nearly a decade ago are seen as drivers of a movement, rather than hitchhikers.

Powerful cultural statement: Support for LGBT causes is often seen as an external-facing brand play. However, brands who recognize the importance of supporting diversity initiatives for their internal audience have unlocked the key ingredient in multicultural marketing / sponsorship.  Employees and prospective employees are internal customers, and now more than ever judge their employer on more than the size of their paycheck. Today's employee demands a sense of shared values between themselves and the organization they work for.Research suggests that there is a direct link between employee engagement and support for diversity initiatives. The face if Canada is changing - more than ever, organizations are likely to have a multi-racial, multi-sexual orientation workforce. To recruit and retain top talent that is diverse, brands must showcase their support for minority groups.

Niche groups gaining mass appeal: Brands must recognize that the "LGBT-audience" consists of more than simply those who associate as LGBT. We live in an era where niche, segment oriented marketing is gaining appeal with masses. A vote of support for a minority group is a play to the majority of consumers. In a pluralist society like Canada, where LGBT support is the norm, brands can gain affinity by advocating for marginalized groups. According to a study by JWT, 80% of consumers feel that “showing gay or lesbian people in ads simply reflects the reality of our society today.” 60% of consumers say that "brands that show same-sex couples are “being appropriately inclusive” with their marketing. Brands who lead and show bravery on a subject will be regarded as leaders by consumers.

Explore cross-platform activity: For non-sponsor brands thematically drawing an association to the pro-LGBT movement, recognize that as a brand, LGBT acceptance can simply be a cause overlay to a sponsorship within sports, entertainment, or arts & culture. Brands who want to use a territory with which they are familiar and have built up equity with consumers in can leverage existing partnerships to make a statement regarding LGBT. Whether it be a hockey sponsor leveraging a property like You Can Play, or Adidas' partnership with Tom Daley, sport can be a powerful platform to amplify LGBT messaging.

Be prepared for backlash: Although public opinion on LGBT issues has evolved significantly, brands must still be conscious of the fact that a negative response is possible. In the age of social media, even a small minority of consumers to disapprove of LGBT support can quickly become a vocal minority. Organizations should assesses the risk profile on any marketing activity, but specifically when inserting themselves into a polarizing debate - a strategic plan will yield greater value. In March 2014, Honey Maid released an ad featuring a same-sex couple amongst other "untraditional" families and received a number of negative comments on YouTube and other social media networks. The brand responded with this:

Future Outlook:

The intersection of sponsorships and cause has become an unmatched forum for engagement marketers to demonstrate a company's values to all stakeholders (employees, consumers, shareholders). Canada is becoming an increasingly diverse nation - and as our differences are on display more than ever before, brand's can be a driver for unison and inclusion. A time will come when sexual orientation and gender identity are non-issues, and at that time, brand messaging around LGBT-themes will begin to decrease. However, during a time of momentum for the movement, look for consumer expectations to rise and pressure previously silent brands to become vocal on the issue.

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