When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, advertising has a visibility problem.
Despite 5.6% of the U.S. population identifying as LGBT in a 2021 Gallup poll, only 1.8% of characters in ads featured at the 2019 Cannes Lions festival represented the LGBTQ+ population.
For all of marketers’ talk about accurately representing the audiences they are trying to reach, that’s a pretty large gap. So, what’s the problem?
In many cases, advertisers and agencies are avoiding LGBTQ+ representation for fear of offending the audience by getting representation wrong. According to research from GLAAD and Procter & Gamble released in May, advertisers and agencies are more concerned about representing LGBTQ+ people unfairly in ads (81%) than they are about facing backlash for not featuring them at all. Meanwhile, 78% of advertisers agree that it’s difficult to accurately represent the LGBTQ+ community “because of its many nuances.”
Advertisers are also, in perhaps a slightly strong take, pandering to homophobia. More than 60% of respondents to the P&G and GLAAD survey said they fear backlash for including LGBTQ+ people in their ads.
These figures show that the industry is fearful of getting representation wrong, yet unable to commit to putting in the work to learn how to accurately represent this large and growing audience, with all of its intersectional facets.
But underrepresentation isn’t the only issue. Released today, a new study from GLAAD and Getty Images shows that just 21% of people see LGBTQ+ people represented regularly in stock imagery — and these representations are “narrow and stereotypical.” For example, 30% of images depict gay men as “feminine” and 28% depict them as “flamboyant.” Meanwhile, 29% of images portray lesbian women as “masculine.” And almost 30% of images of gay people include a rainbow flag.
This is curious, because when asked outright, around 60% of advertisers and agencies strongly agree that including more LGBTQ+ representation in advertising helps consumers “understand and respect” LGBTQ+ people, and more than half of agencies agree that featuring LGBTQ+ people in ads is a top priority for management.
Plus, more than half of advertisers (56%) and agencies (55%) agree that including LGBTQ+ voices in their campaigns reflect favorably on their efforts to support diversity as a whole — which seems like an important opportunity in a year marked by promises to “do better” when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion.
GLAAD and Getty have teamed up on a guide to help advertisers more fairly and accurately depict LGBTQ+ people in their campaigns, following up on a similar initiative for transgender people launched in December.
But like most pushes for change in corporate America, this one is going to have to come from the top.
P&G and GLAAD’s research found just 36% of advertisers agree their workplace is “very accepting” of diverse communities, and only 39% said featuring LGBTQ+ people in communications is supported by top management.
It bears repeating: Advertisers hold the purse strings in this industry, and change always comes from the top. So unless brands put a real commitment behind increasing accurate representation of the LGBTQ+ community in their campaigns — from casting diverse actors to putting a diverse crew behind the camera — stereotypes and under-visibility will remain the norm.
As the world becomes a more fluid, accepting place — one in six members of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+, according to P&G — advertisers can do themselves a favor by getting educated on how to include this growing community authentically and accurately.