In 2019, LGBTQ-themed ads are ubiquitous. And they're now more diverse than ever. As gay pride 2019 approaches, WSJ's Spencer Macnaughton takes a look at how these ads have evolved over the last five decades. Photo Composite: Adele Morgan/The Wall Street Journal
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- Over the course of Pride Month, you're probably noticing a lot of LBBTQ ads from many mainstream companies. Right here in Times Square, these ads and products are everywhere. From cellphone carriers to financial services companies to clothing stores and everything in between, it's hard not to notice that it's Pride Month. Companies have financial incentive to advertise to this group. The total U.S. buying power of the adult LGBTQ population is close to a trillion dollars. Brand loyalty is also strong with this group. According to a 2018 poll, 78% of LGBTQ people tend to support companies that market to this group, and 75% of LGBTQ people feel more positive toward companies that include transgender and gender-expansive imagery in their outreach, and that's starting to show up in advertising. This Gillette ad features a black father teaching his transgender son how to shave. - I went into my transition just wanting to be happy. I'm glad I'm at the point where I'm able to shave. - [Spencer] Experts say these ads are now more diverse and inclusive than ever. - Advertisers really want to appeal to millennials and the generation following them, Generation Z, to appeal to their value system, which includes the importance of diversity and reflecting what their lives look like. - But it wasn't always this way. Over the last 50 years, LGBTQ-targeted ads have evolved, a lot. (pleasant piano and orchestral music) Before the 1970s, there were very few explicit depictions of LGBTQ people in advertising, but by the '70s, marketers started realizing they were missing out on a potentially lucrative market, so they started placing ads in gay publications like the Los Angeles Advocate and After Dark, but they stopped short of placing ads in mainstream publications. That's because many newspapers and magazines had policies that prohibited ads containing the words gay or homosexual. Today, the strategy has flipped. Corporations have expanded beyond LGBTQ publications and are placing ads where everyone can see. - They are feeling like in those mainstream publications, they're able to cast a wider net and reach a larger potential audience. - [Spencer] In 2018, NBC aired this Coca-Cola ad during the Super Bowl that included gender non-conforming pronouns. - [Narrator] There's a Coke for he and she. - [Narrator] And her. - [Narrator] And me. - [Narrator] And them. - In the 1980s, many advertisers withdrew their gay-targeted ads from niche publications. - When AIDS started to develop, it was really first known as a gay disease. The stigma was specifically around gay sex, and that was pretty icky for advertisers. Conceptually, they wanted to stay away from that concept. - [Spencer] Absolut Vodka was the only major liquor brand that continued advertising to gay consumers through the '80s. - Absolut stayed in for decades, and really made a name for itself and earned the loyalty of the gay market by showing loyalty to the gay market. - [Spencer] Today, a range of vodka companies target LGBTQ consumers in their ads and campaigns. Stoli's limited edition bottle celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and this ad by Skyy Vodka says it's the official vodka of World Pride in New York and features RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars winner Trixie Mattel. - [Trixie] I'm Trixie Mattel, and I'm proudly American (laughs). (pleasant mallet percussion music) - In the 1990s, as stigma associated with HIV and AIDS slowly decreased, companies started advertising to gay people on TV and in mainstream publications, but they often did this through coded messages rather than explicit depictions of gay people. Look at this Subaru ad from 1999. At first glace, there's nothing that explicitly tries to reach LGBTQ people, but if you look closer, you see that the slogan reads that the company is, quote, "Entirely comfortable with its orientation," and features one vanity plate that nods to the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess, which had a huge lesbian following. Another plate says P Townie, indicating that the driver is from the gay vacation hot spot of Provincetown, Massachusetts. These ads allowed advertisers to communicate with gay people on mainstream platforms with less risk of backlash. The coded messages were often lost on heterosexual people. In 1994, IKEA launched a commercial that featured two gay men shopping for a dining room table. - I met Steve at my sister's wedding. I was really impressed with how well-designed the IKEA furniture was. - Following the commercial, IKEA's phone lines were flooded. Some praised the company, but many others demanded for the ad to be removed, and the IKEA store in Hicksville, New York was evacuated after a bomb threat. Around this time, one company produced an ad but got cold feet and never released it. Guinness withdrew this ad in 1995 that featured two men kissing. Since the '90s, experts say the risk factor in marketing to LGBTQ people has flipped. - It feels like it's more risky not to be marketing to the LGBT community. Millennials and Gen Z, they also happen to be louder. They're more savvy with social media. When they see an injustice happen, they are going to call it out, and in their mind, an injustice simply might be that nine out of the 10 companies are represented as part of LGBTQ inclusion, and that 10th company isn't, and to them, that might be an injustice. (pleasant mallet percussion music) - In the early 2000s, companies started explicitly targeting LGBTQ consumers. - From 2006 probably all the way through 2014 still felt very gay white male focused. - [Spencer] In the first half of the 2010s, portrayals of same sex couples started showing up in catalogs and commercials as companies started to realize that the pluses might actually outweigh the possible risks. - I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite. We should celebrate. - My husband's bringing me a drink right now. - So is mine! (upbeat rock music) - 2015 was a watershed moment in advertising as well as a legal moment because of the passage of marriage equality. Advertisers responded to that by suddenly increasing the number of same sex couples who are included in those commercials. - [Spencer] Since 2015, some of the world's biggest companies have produced LGBTQ ads that have popped up on advertising's biggest stages, like this Nike ad featuring transgender athlete Chris Mosier that aired during the 2016 Olympics, and in the last few years, companies have taken another step by expanding beyond what Grace calls packageable representations and toward portrayals that include a wider variety of LGBTQ people. This includes more depictions of transgender and non-binary people as well as people of color, and while LGBTQ advertising has evolved over time, many are still critical of these ads. - There's a large majority, I believe, of the LGBTQ community who looks at any new advertiser or brand that's coming onto the scene to say that they're marketing and supportive of LGBTQ pride and they're scratching their heads and wondering where were you four years ago, where were you 10 years ago, where were you 20 years ago. You know, where were these companies then, and I think that what we're seeing is now really that monetization and companies really trying to profit.