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LGBT Marketing: Inclusive Or Tokenism

LGBT Marketing: Inclusive Or Tokenism

Marketing is a multi-billion dollar business and the top priority of brands and corporations lobbying to get consumers’ precious dollars. Companies spent big not only looking into what markets are the most viable and lucrative or to give them an edge on their competition but most importantly to increase profits.  

Rainbow Cup for Pride Month

In 2018, the LGBT community worldwide had economic activity that amassed to $4.6 trillion dollars.  And companies took notice; gearing their marketing and advertising to be more “LGBT inclusive” as a way to lure and entice LGBT consumer dollars.  Companies like (but certainly not limited to) Tiffany & Co., Doritos, Macy’s, Wells Fargo, and Clean and Clear have all had ad campaigns with very specific LGBT themes and imagery; from Doritos’s rainbow chip bags to Tiffany & Co. same-sex “Will You” ad campaign.  But, with the increased LGBT representation within marketing campaigns for these big companies, one cannot help but ask the question: is true inclusivity within these big brands? Commercial tokenism? Fetishism?

What is true inclusivity?  Is it simply just being represented within an ad or two, or more?  While it can appear that companies are doing their due-diligence to give more representation, we have to ask if is this simply for the dollar, or are these companies working to truly include the LGBT community within the fabric of their brand.  Full inclusion means that some of those dollars coming from the LGBT community are going right back to the community; investing in improving and building up the community. Full inclusion also means that within the company, it employs people from the LGBT community and engages in fair and just hiring practices.  

Rainbow Flag for Pride Month

While the ads are great displays of LGBT images, many of these same companies drop the ball at true inclusion and representation.  Doritos rainbow chip bags, for example, seemingly only pop up in markets during the summer Pride months, with Doritos not taking any other significant stand for the LGBT community.  While Wells Fargo not only practices fair hiring and employs members of the LGBT community, they also contribute millions to the Pride festival and LGBT causes and continue to be a strong ally for the community.  Unfortunately, many companies are behind in the true inclusion that their advertisement showcases.

Commercial tokenism and fetishism seem to be more in-tune with these companies and their LGBT marketing.  One example is timing. Many of the companies only put out LGBT-centered ads during peak shopping times (i.e. Christmas) or at times like Pride season, where the LGBT community tend to exercise more of their spending power.  Any times besides these, the number of ads that are LGBT-centered or featuring LGBT themes are significantly less. Also, a telling sign is the type of LGBT representation used. Even as companies use LGBT-centered ads, they tend to play it safe, sticking mostly to white and cisgendered LGBT images; ones that can blend in with the mostly cisheteropatriarchal advertising landscape.  LGBT people of color are often left out, especially ones that are not cisgender and non-gender conforming.

While LGBT buying power continues to increase, we have to wield that power carefully and strategically.  These companies are fighting and vying for our dollars, and what we spend them on can make or break their bottom line.  We have to look beyond these clever marketing ploys and see if the companies are truly reflective of the LGBT images they portray.  

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