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Are LGTBQI+ Advertisements In Danger Of Being A 'Fad' And 'Tokenistic'?

LGBTQI+ talent is now mainstream in marketing, but have companies tried too hard to capitalise on a "fad"?

Business and marketing experts are reflecting on the growth in big brands making a stance on LGBTQI+ issues as part of the their social policy and business plans. But is it working?

“A lot of brands in the past shied away from controversial issues but now more and more are becoming bolder," Professor Nitika Garg, from UNSW Business School said.

ANZ #LoveSpeech campaign, Vodafone's #ConnectWithLove campaign, Honey Birdette's #Fluid campaign and Bonds' 'Out Now' campaign are examples of recent companies in Australia targeting and supporting the LGBTQI+ community.

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According to the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 3.2 per cent of adults in Australia identify as homosexual or bisexual, while a further 2.4 percent identify as other orientation/not sure.

So is it just about trying to attain this relatively small market share?

Matt Newell, Founder and CEO of advertising firm The General Store, said companies are now more frequently using LGBTQI+ talent to reflect society's sentiment and attitudes on issues.

"Although it's only three per cent of society that identify as LGTBQI+, there are many more, very many more people that are pro that," he told 10 daily.

ANZ #LoveSpeech campaign. Image: ANZ

The problem businesses can face though, Newell said, is not coming across as authentic but rather, just ticking boxes.

"It can be a difficult balance to find, if you don't you are criticised, but you can be also criticised for doing it," he said.

Garg echoes this sentiment suggesting that brands that are authentic in their representation of the LGBTQI+ community have a greater chance of success.

“(It’s) an emotional response, because a lot of marketing is not about providing information, but rather about evoking the right emotions," she said.

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Garg used the Olay Face Anything campaign, which highlighted the societal expectations of women and their behaviour as an example. She said the campaign was successful because women were able to connect with it.

“(It’s) an emotional response, because a lot of marketing is not about providing information, but rather about evoking the right emotions.”

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But Steve Asnicar, CEO of Diversity Australia, said that focusing on LGBTQI+ talent in marketing campaigns may now have "done its time" and it could be seen as a "fad".

"People just want to be seen a people and not as a sexuality," he said.

"There's been a normalisation now and it's done its time, we're back to looking at people."

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Garg believes there are some brands simply jumping on the bandwagon for profit.

“There will always be companies like that, with any movement that picks up steam.”

But Asnicar believes some of his clients no longer find using LGBTQI+ talent as a profitable endeavour, because it may just come across as "tokenistic".

Newell said while it may be hard to measure direct profit from inclusive advertising, the brand's overall image will benefit.

"It's hard to measure profit contribution directly but ranks do see positive improvements in metrics like brand preference, which relates to their competitive advantage," he said.

Newell also pointed out that LGBTQI+ representation is now "mainstream" in marketing and advertising, and IKEA's once polarisng advert in 1995 showing two men shopping would not be as noteworthy if it were released now.

At the time, it was the first major national television advert to portray a gay couple in the U.S..

"The IKEA ad was revolutionary at the time, but would not be particularly now," he said.

Contact the author jdunne@networkten.com.au