As LGBTQ pride month in June came to a close this past weekend, retailers and brands seemed to have stepped up efforts over the past few years to set inclusion as a priority — although there still is much more work to be done, according to some observers.
One thing is clear, though: efforts to bolster a brand’s diversity is often “rewarded with consumer loyalty,” according to insights and analytics technology solutions provider FocusVision. The firm just wrapped up a study looking at the consumer’s perception of the industry’s efforts in this area as represented in the media.
After surveying 1,500 respondents in the U.S., FocusVision “found mixed results despite a growing swell of consumers having a positive impression of authentic portrayals of LGBTQ individuals in media,” a spokeswoman told WWD. “While some consumers are proud to support an LGBTQ-inclusive brand (31 percent of respondents are somewhat/definitely more likely to purchase), there is a critical need for brands to reflect on previous and current LGBTQ-related initiatives to determine whether their advocacy will be perceived as insensitive, inaccurate or opportunistic.”
Researchers at the firm noted that the findings suggest that in order “to navigate the complex landscape, brands must consider consumer skepticism before doubling down on advocating for a disenfranchised community that has never been at the center of its focus. Being inclusive should be more than a monthlong effort; it needs to translate into all parts of a business.”
The survey included direct insight from consumers — revealing often blunt assessments of the diversity efforts of major companies. “I am gay myself and I can honestly safely say other than being inflammatory to men, sharing a stretched-out Gap T-shirt sends a message of in-your-face acceptance that has the potential to create harsh resentment,” said one respondent. “It shows a company making a statement — even if it’s in a supportive role — [that’s] presented in a nonappropriate manner. Your company sells clothing, it shouldn’t project politics through consumerism.”
One respondent suggested that brands and retailers be more straightforward, and humble. “Advocate without making a big deal about it,” said another respondent. “Like…a scene with two dads and a kid doesn’t need to have a big rainbow flag on it. Just present it the same way you would a straight couple (which wouldn’t have an American flag over them unless it’s a Memorial Day sale).”
Regarding the role of brands and advocacy, respondents were divided. When asked about the way they feel in regard to companies advocating for LGBTQ community, 28 percent said brands should be doing more. However, when asked if companies had a responsibility to be advocates, it was nearly divided in half.
The researchers of the firm said it was important to note that advocating for the LGBTQ community “is not just about ‘speaking out,’ but also about providing more ‘natural’ representations of the LGBTQ community.”
Regarding LGBTQ hostility, 40 percent of those polled “felt brands should distance themselves from LGBTQ hostile individuals, and more than a third reported they were less likely to purchase from brands that were unsympathetic to the LGBTQ community.”
The findings suggest brands need to be authentic, supportive and inclusive — in a natural and committed way. “Stand behind what they say,” another respondent said. “Running an ad campaign using a same-sex couple is great, but if the brand is going to do that why not endorse it publicly? Make a statement. Support rallies and rights of individuals in court and in the community. If they really want to do this they need to be all in.”