Monday, October 8, 2012

Gay Rights: Cultural Turning Point or Marketing Fad?



Was it just me, or did this summer seem kind of gay?

I don't mean that in any kind of negative way.  I just mean that a lot of brands seemed to be very strongly supporting gay rights this year(and for the record, I'm in favor of that).

First there were JCPenney's ads for Mother's Day and Father's Day sales which featured same-sex couples with their children, then there was Oreo's infamous rainbow cookie(which I still wish was real, because that looks delicious), and though I never saw any Starbucks ads featuring this theme, they made a lot of headlines with their public support of gay marriage legislation in Washington.

What's behind this seemingly sudden outpouring of support?  Have we reached a cultural turning point where homosexuality is finally so accepted that marketers can openly target that demographic, or is this simply a marketing fad that some brands are using to grab a bit of attention?  Can it be both?

The way so many brands were showing their support after JCPenney makes it seem like a bit of a fad.  When everyone else saw the kind of attention they were getting, they all jumped on board before it became passee.

Not a bad idea, from a marketing perspective.  It certainly worked out for Starbucks.  They saw an entire grassroots movement form around buying their coffee.

It's possible that our society has turned a corner.  That, once JCPenney showed it was safe, everyone took the opportunity to express themselves and the floodgates opened.  Perhaps they were all excited to finally be able to appeal to a group that they had been forced to pretend did not exist for fear of starting a controversy and finding themselves in a PR nightmare.

Now we are in the fall, Gay Pride Month is far behind us, and I haven't heard much from brands about supporting LGBT rights lately.  Sure, if you search for it, you'll still see some articles here and there about companies supporting(or opposing) LGBT rights, but nothing like the phenomenon that we saw this summer.

So it looks like it was all a fad of sorts.  Just like with the Olympics and the presidential election, brands saw a hot topic and jumped at the opportunity to grab some of the spotlight.

That might sound bad, but I would consider it a very good sign.  It would mean society has become accepting to the point that something like this can become a fad.

At least, it would if that's what actually happened.  But let's take a closer look at these events.

JCPenney hired Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson in 2011, well before any of this summer's controversies began.  The Mother's Day and Father's Day ads seem like a natural extension of the supportive stance the company had already taken.

Starbucks voiced their support of the new legislation back in January, again before the height of the controversy.  And, like JCPenney, it was a reasonable extension of their existing policies.

Oreo perhaps caused one of the biggest stirs with their rainbow cookie, but I don't think they can even be credited with that.  All they did was make an image for their Daily Twist campaign.  There was no way they could have planned for it to spread like it did.

So then what was behind the sudden attention to gay rights?  Was the media simply covering it much more for some reason?

I think that was part of it, but mainly I think it was because all of these stories went viral.  People became passionate and vocal about LGBT rights and equality in a way that they haven't before.  It could be that a new generation has come of age that is more accepting than those before, or it could be that social media has made it easier for those who are already passionate to make their voices heard.  Or it could be backlash against anti-gay conservative groups who had suddenly become vocal themselves(nothing gets people fired up like having an enemy).  Likely it is a combination of the three.

As always, the marketing industry serves as a kind of mirror, reflecting what's going through the minds of the consumers.  We saw brands getting fired up because we saw people getting fired up.  And I'm eager to see what comes next.

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