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Brands Should Support LGBT Rights

07/05/2015 06:43 EDT | Updated 07/05/2016 05:59 EDT
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In light of the Supreme Court of the United States' (SCOTUS) recent equal marriage ruling, there has been a lot of discussion around brand involvement in the LGBT rights movement -- who has come out in support, who hasn't, who will, who should, who shouldn't.

As the SCOTUS decision permeates business and marketing discussions, there have been a few arguments against brands publicly supporting equal marriage and LGBT rights. And not always the kinds of truthiness inspired arguments you might expect, but rather, reasoned (if ill-informed) arguments based on a few common assumptions.

I'd like to address those here.

Equal Marriage Has Nothing to Do With Business

Causes have a lot to do with business, and supporting or not supporting one can impact your bottom line in more ways than you think.

If you're a brand with a significant LGBT market, it's a no-brainer to develop campaigns that are inclusive and supportive. But beyond your customers, a key function of a good business is to attract and retain one of your most valuable assets: your employees.

Companies that come out in support of LGBT rights through public-facing campaigns not only send a message of love and acceptance to their current employees, but also to potential employees seeking a safe and inclusive work environment. Sadly, there aren't too many companies willing to do so. However, this presents an enormous advantage for those who do! A lineup of qualified, dedicated and loyal job candidates is no small feat, especially as recruiters begin to realize the shift back to a candidate-driven market.

It's Bad for Business

Yes, pro-LGBT brands will in all likelihood lose a few customers, just as they might if their campaign triggered people's many other prejudices and biases, say, against interracial families, like this Cheereos ad (from 2013!).

Basing national or global campaign strategies on the sensitivities of a sheltered few is not a viable long-term business strategy.

And research shows that these few are becoming fewer. Support for equal marriage among all generations has been gaining steady support and is at an all-time high. Nearly three quarters of millennials in the USA support equal marriage, compared to 59 per cent of Gen Xers, and 45 per cent of baby boomers (both generations that came of age when homosexuality was still criminalized).

Furthermore, LGBT consumers are so used to being subjugated by mainstream society, that many are grateful for outward support from allies. This gratefulness translates into loyalty. Loyalty into sales and referrals. And here's some data from a 2011 Harris Interactive survey to back up those assertions:

• 74 per cent of LGBT adults are likely to consider brands that support nonprofits and/or causes that are important to them as a LGBT person.

• 87 per cent of LGBT adults say they are likely to consider a brand that is known to provide equal workplace benefits for all of their employees, including gay and lesbian employees.

• 71 per cent of LGBT adults said they are likely to remain loyal to a brand they believe to be very friendly and supportive to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community even when less friendly companies may offer lower prices or be more convenient. In August 2007, this figure was 66 per cent.

Of course none of this applies if you're a religiously-affiliated socially conservative organization in the American south. This related to broader socio-economic issues well beyond the scope of this piece.

It's Just a Fad

This is by far one of the most common objections to brand support for LGBT rights. Yes, equal marriage is still quite fresh in America, and outward support for the LGBT community has certainly seen a spike recently.

But equal marriage is not that new to everyone. It's been nationally recognized in Canada for 10 years now. In the Netherlands, 12 years. South Africa, 9 years. And brands have been slowly coming out of the closet in support of LGBT-related causes since then, and they in all likelihood will continue to do so.

Brand support for the LGBT community is part of a broader pattern of business and advertising reflecting cultural changes in society.

If brands didn't constantly evolve, we'd still be seeing stuff like this on TV!

Furthermore, LGBT rights does not stop at marriage. Even in a utopian scenario, where equal marriage becomes an accepted norm across international borders, the LGBT community will still be dealing with the after-effects of social and institutional discrimination. Bullying, harassment, assault, murder and suicide are just some of the issues that affect the LGBT community disproportionately. As a brand, there is, and will continue to be, a lot to stand up for.

We Don't Know Enough To Comment

If you're acknowledging this, you're ahead of the game. Gender identity and sexual orientation can be difficult to comprehend from a position of majority status. If you do plan to come out in support, do your research. You might want to take a look at a previous post I've written on Pinkwashing.

There are a number of landmines to watch out for when coming out in support of the LGBT community. Authenticity and timing is key. And so is language. It's worth noting for example, that the preferred nomenclature among rights groups is actually "equal marriage," not gay marriage and not same-sex marriage. Bet you didn't know that. And there are many more examples where that came from.

Do your research.

This is a historically unique time for LGBT rights, and as a brand, being aligned with the changing tide of public opinion will determine your place in history. Brands have such enormous social and political influence in modern society, and their ability to affect change (for good or bad) is greater than any other political force in recent history. As they begin to wield this influence for good, it's clear that we'll see the benefits.

Joseph Donia is the founder and principal strategist at CONNECT, a data-driven, social-first digital consultancy. With knack for finding meaning in data and a passion for social technology, Joseph creates digital experiences for brands that produce serious results.

In early 2015 Joseph launched the CONNECT Allies program, a catalyst for brands looking to engage the LGBTQ community through social media.

Visit www.connectonline.ca for more information.

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