Pink Pound RIP

Pink Pound, reappraising LGBT marketing strategy

By Michael Brown, Insight Director

Last week, I celebrated my 30th birthday. The stars aligned to give my birthday week a touch of magic – specifically, because I got to present my agency’s new research on LGBT+ representation in advertising at the inaugural Diversity in Marketing & Advertising conference. The summit was held at Channel 4, an organisation I’ve held in heroic esteem for as long as I can remember.

I stood on a podium to share the latest UK by UM spotlight – a series of audience spotlights seeking to shatter targeting stereotypes. I presented insights generated by YouGov Profiles (an audience profiling tool), and by a new data-set collected through a 2,000-respondent survey we ran via gay/bisexual male meet-up app, Grindr, in March 2017. We struck upon a broad series of arresting findings that every brand stakeholder should absorb.

Our first discovery in this study was of the added vigour with which gay and bisexual 16-34-year-old males embrace digital media. YouGov Profiles reveals that 70% of this audience states they ‘could not manage without the internet’ – emphatically more than their straight peers (33% in comparison).

This audience’s taste for Digital is motivated by the drive to be connected to others: they are 20% likelier to use Instagram and Twitter and 4 times likelier to use Tumblr. The IPA’s Touchpoints media consumption diary confirms that gay/bisexual male youths spend over an hour longer using the internet daily compared to their straight counterparts (when dissected, we found most of this extra hour tends to be spent on social media).

This online embrace may have been instigated by an offline phenomenon. Where I’m writing now, in the capital, the ‘real world’ gay scene has been threatened by a set of factors – the general sanitisation of London, its soaring property costs, society drinking less, and the increasing acceptance of the LGBT+ community in mainstream venues. The full list of pubs, clubs and saunas closed since the millennium is stark, and with these closures a part of culture is irrevocably gone. Equally, however, there are arguments that it is, in fact, apps such as Grindr that have ‘killed’ the real-life gay scene, pointing to a very complex situation.

The role of the Grindr survey was to really get under the skin of this audience (1 in 2 of whom have used the platform previously). We discovered a series of staggering findings relating more broadly to the audience and advertising:

  • 54% of gay and bisexual male respondents indicated that they might have come out sooner if brands had shown LGBT+ people like them when they were growing up. A staggering 69% believe that brands have a big part to play in challenging and progressing society’s views
  • 66% felt there aren’t enough LGBT+ people shown in advertising campaigns, and 49% indicated they’d be likelier to buy from brands who show LGBT+ people in their adverts. 52% believe the LGBT+ community is invisible in advertising

Yet while greater representation by brands was something this audience wishes for, the term ‘pink pound’ as a marketing term is deeply problematic. We learned that 42% of respondents find the term offensive, showing this audience to be enlightened enough to see through tokenistic, cynical profit play by brands (clearly, Pepsi have recently set a high benchmark for brand inauthenticity). The term is disliked for perpetuating stereotypes, segregating the community, and for incorrectly implying that the audience is particularly affluent.

The survey findings also told a story of the role of apps like Grindr in today’s gay scene: 62% of 16-34-year-old male respondents reckoned meet-up apps like Grindr are the new ‘virtual gaybar’, while 72% of respondents said they wish there were less shame around using these apps, showing that shame is still a presence in this audience’s lives. 50% said they had met good, real-world friends on the platform.

Pink Pound, reappraising LGBT marketing strategy

I took part in a panel following my presentation, in which I was asked who the responsibility sits with to drive better representation in ads. For me, this has to be a combined duty: clients owe it to society, and to their bottom lines (inclusive representation is proven to drive campaign profit impact) to write progressive briefs, while agency Planners and Strategists should have the courage to steer clients boldly in representing and addressing the true populous of Modern Britain.

The conference has inspired me to make advocacy of brands’ role in driving social inclusion a key career focus in going forward. The Diversity in Marketing & Advertising summit was inspirational, as was the tireless leadership with which its creator, Azadeh Akbari, ran the event. Keep an eye out for its second installment next year.

My shorter-term ambition is to replicate this research for lesbian/bisexual females and transgender people, in order to truly analyse the full LGBT+ community in the UK. We’ve had early talks with partners such as media owners in this space, but if you think you might know of a good way to quantify sentiment amongst this audience (i.e. through opted-in databases or email lists), do get in touch – I’d be very grateful indeed. Reaching these audiences at scale is tricky.

Similarly, if you yourself are interested in the role of brands and ads in driving social inclusion and diversity, do let’s connect – I’d love to build my community in this space.


This article was first published as part of the Agency Voices series on LinkedIn

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