Sydney Mardi Gras 2014: Hundreds of thousands of revellers celebrate one of the world’s largest LGBTQI Pride events. Amid the corsets, feathers, floats, glitter and multi-colored mayhem, the “best dressed” award goes to… an ATM machine?
ANZ Bank flamboyantly displayed support for diversity by launching the world’s first GAYTMs at this emblematic event. Each hand-jewelled ATM at central ANZ branches glistened with rhinestones, sequins, studs, leather and fur. Screens flashed cheeky messages like ‘Hello gorgeous’, ‘Cash out and proud’, and ‘Happy Mardi Gras!’ The machines dispensed rainbow coloured receipts and all transaction fees were donated to Twenty10 – a gay and lesbian charity organization.
ANZ built buzz through online films and vibrant social media content that captured the making-of, installation, and reactions to the GAYTMs. The whole shebang earned the financial institution acclaim, awards and of course… controversy.
In 2014, a year of major sporting events, big-name brands “came out” in support of the LGBT community. YouTube’s Proud to Play campaign celebrated LGBT athletes, while Nike encouraged consumers to Be True with its footwear and T-shirts that support the collective. Professional footballers in Arsenal FC’s homophobia-kicking ad spoke directly to LGBT fans about natural attributes – and tied rainbow laces in their boots.
A fine line
A few decades ago, marketers barely dared utter the acronym. These days, consumers support diversity and expect equality, and more products and services cater to the LGBT community.
Spain’s first LGBT retirement home opened in Madrid in 2014, to combat isolation among senior citizens in the community. This year, a Stockholm swimming pool unveiled its neutral gender identity changing room to improve comfort and privacy for its LGBT customers. The Axel hotel chain, which has hosted LGBT travellers, with “diversity and respect” (and exquisite décor) since 2007, has expanded to several famously-friendly cities and plans to open its second Barcelona hotel this year.
Recognition is even spreading to cultures that aren’t typically associated with open-mindedness towards the LGBT community. In light of what the Pope did-or-didn’t say, one Italian tour company wheeled out art tours of the Vatican that highlight the (homo)sexuality of revered artists – including Michelangelo. Late last year, Turkey’s first transgender fashion show hit the runway to raise money for Istanbul’s newly opened transgender shelter.
With the LGBT market estimated to be worth $70 billion in the US alone, it’s hardly surprising that brands are making their marketing campaigns more inclusive. So how do we tick the right boxes with the community, without isolating other consumers?
Walking the walk
LGBT consumers and their supporters want to see that a brand incorporates equality into its modus operandi as well as its messaging. Marriott International is a shining example. The hotel chain has consistently earned a 100% score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index as one of the Best Employers for LGBT People. So, when it launched its #LoveTravels, campaign featuring celebrity members of the LGBT community, synchronicity – not hypocrisy – prevailed.
Messaging must strike the right tone. Subtlety leads to confusion, while clichés breed contempt. Real testimonials by LGBT community members can connect like-minded consumers to a brand through its values. However, brands must also remain true to their own essence and not shoehorn values and messages in the name of telling a good story.
Last but not least, major LGBT events – like Mardi Gras – provide prime sponsorship opportunities to roadtest a brand with community leaders and tastemakers – and to associate it with a worthy cause.