LGBT+ Consumers Love Brands That Authentically Take Risks & Follow Through
At Viacom, any discussion about LGBT topics is going to involve VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Emmy-winning reality television program that made drag queens mainstream.
“I know it seems like 300 years ago, but Subaru was one of the first brands to sign for Drag Race,” said Viacom Velocity Writer and Producer, Jay Randall, at a Pride Month edition of Viacom Ad Solutions’ ReThink forum following a screening of his documentary The Diversity of Pride. “And that was very special.”
Moderated by Viacom Sr. Director of Content & Licensing Operations, and Chair of Emerge, the company’s LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG), Nicole Martinez, the panel discussed the role of brands and LGBT+ consumers and employees on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Viacom SVP of Global Consumer Insights Christian Kurtz and Viacom Velocity Writer and Producer Kelsie Mason—who also appears on the film—joined the forum.
“The biggest impact that anything makes on people’s attitudes is knowing somebody who is LGBT+. That’s one of the reasons why coming out is so important,” said Kurtz citing Viacom’s survey with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) about attitudes to sexual and gender minorities around the world. “The next biggest thing that changes people’s attitudes is media representation.”
That’s why authenticity is essential when trying to engage an audience, especially the LGBT community. And on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, as New York City wraps herself in the rainbow flag to host World Pride, an uneasy sense of being pandered to has started to creep on some in the community. Mason said it best; “I do think that it’s crucial for companies to talk about pride, but are you really doing anything for my community and me?”
“Authenticity is key and following through the rest of the year. It is frustrating when you feel like you’re being pandered to,” said Randall, explaining that though there are a lot of companies “putting flags out there” it is up to the community to hold them accountable in terms of their genuine, behind-the-scenes, support for the community. “I feel proud of Viacom, because I know we do.”
“It’s not only about diversity but also about inclusion,” said Mason, explaining that brands need to put representatives of the very population they’re marketing to in the room where it happens, and along the decision-making process. “It’s an active thing that you work towards every day, and here at Viacom we are lucky because we have resources.”
But the support and resources don’t just materialize overnight; it takes risk-taking and consistent and ongoing support in the face of backlash. That’s what Viacom has championed for decades by creating content that drives conversations and reflects the culture of its employees and audiences. Eventually, visionary brand partners who know inclusion is not just the right thing to do (but also good for business!) have joined.
“What those campaigns have been doing for years is the risk associated with running those ads and stand by them,” said Mason. “Now, Pride is so mainstream but to actually truly stand with the community when you know you will get backlash is critical.”
She mentioned other brands who she thinks are doing it right when it comes to engaging the LGBT demo. “Master Card comes to mind,” Mason said, citing the brand’s #AcceptanceMatters activation during which they transformed New York City’s Village’s iconic Gay Street into an LGBT+ Main Road.
Mason also mentioned Master Card’s “True Name” campaign that allows transgender and non-binary customers to swap out credit, debit or prepaid cards with their “dead name” with new ones featuring the names they actually use. “This happened because Master Card has people from the actual community work in these marketing campaigns that actually impact people’s lives and make them better.”
Kurtz highlighted the work of some brands on a global scale. During the prolonged and controversial fight that culminated with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia last year, Airbnb and Qantas came through for the Aussie LGBT+ community by creating pro-marriage equality campaigns that eventually contributed to moving the needle. “There was a massive backlash from politicians saying that corporations shouldn’t get involved,” he said, adding that the brands nonetheless persisted.
In conclusion, not unlike women, African Americans, and Hispanics, LGBT consumers are going to gravitate towards brands that include them in their decision making, authentically take risks and follow through beyond Pride season. That’s what Viacom and its brand partners have done by creating content that drives cultural conversations, and effects change—from MTV’s The Real World to VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Raceand beyond, to be like Mason says, “ahead of our own game.”
Watch The Diversity of Pride by Viacom Velocity’s own Jay Randall: