The New Frontier in Advertising

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With the marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court, the world has changed for gay and lesbian people throughout America. The ruling means that LGBT culture will begin to be mainstreamed and that means an acknowledgment by Madison Avenue that the LGBT community exists.

After the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, companies began to acknowledge that African Americans purchased soap, hair products and food, just like everyone else. Today the concept of avoiding African American consumers seems absurd, but that is exactly what is happening with marketing to another segment of American consumers; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

In the last year, how many ads from large mainstream brands have you seen that include an image of an LGBT person? One? Two? Three at the most? I do not mean a subtle rainbow flag or the Human Rights Campaign yellow equal sign. I mean a gay or lesbian couple drinking coffee in an ad for Folgers. You get the idea.

Over the next several years, marketers for the largest companies in the nation will finally realize what Absolut Vodka has known all along, marketing to the LGBT community through effective advertising will build a brand and corporate revenues. In spite of trailblazers like Absolut, marketing directly to the LGBT consumer has been sparse at best.

When Absolut came to America from Sweden in 1979, the company did not get the memo that said don't market to LGBT people. Absolut built its brand in progressive nightclubs like Studio 54 in New York and the Trocadero Transfer in San Francisco. Trendsetters attending these clubs during the disco age included LGBT people who were drinking the high-end brand often with their straight counterparts. In 1981, Absolut began taking out print ads in LGBT publications The Advocate and After Dark, while unabashedly placing the brand in exclusively LGBT establishments. Sure there were other alcohol brands in LGBT bars but those brands were not about actively marketing to the LGBT community. Think Coors.

Absolut did not have LGBT people in its ads, but the fact that the brand took out ads at all was so incredibly trailblazing it is almost impossible to describe. After a night of partying at the Trocadero, I sat on the patio of the End Up with an Absolut Cape Cod in hand and vowed to drink Absolut until I died. A vow I have managed to keep. Brand loyalty that is truly deserved. And there are scores of LGBT people of a certain age who agree with me.

Flash forward 34 years and not much has changed. There are a few ad campaigns targeted at our community but nothing compared to the ad dollars spent pursuing African Americans and Latinos. In 2014, Marriott launched the #LoveTravels campaign that featured LGBT people in their true state as individuals and couples. How many LGBT people saw the campaign? Not many because the ad support was limited to national publications and websites that may did not reach the majority of the targeted community. That is about to change.

The National Equality Publishers Association (NEPA) was recently created to ensure that the LGBT community gets the respect it deserves from Fortune 500 brands and beyond. An advocacy group for local publishers and associated websites, NEPA seeks to change the advertising landscape with respect to the LGBT consumer. LGBT people buy Tide, Febreze, iPhones and Ford cars like everyone else. It is time for Madison Avenue to actively pursue LGBT consumers.

The LGBT consumer is no longer content to hand over its hard earned dollars to companies that are not willing to acknowledge them as a customer. Just like ads targeted at African Americans and Latinos, it is time for ads featuring LGBT people. NEPA's mission is to help the Fortune 500 make the transition to inclusive marketing and advertising that reflects the tableau of America. That means that the kid in Tuscaloosa, Alabama who is L, G, B, or T will be able to turn on the television, open a tablet, or read their favorite print magazine and see LGBT people represented. That's impact.

The ad will make an even greater difference with the Tuscaloosa kid's straight counterparts. Now the LGBT kid will no longer seem different, he or she will be just like the people the straight kid saw in an ad for their favorite jeans. That will help move America and the world forward. One ad at a time.