Study Shows That LGBTQ Inclusion in Ads Benefits Brands and Boosts Visibility

P&G's Marc Pritchard says he wants the industry to 'accurately reflect all people'

a woman holding a rainbow flag
More than two-thirds of non-LGBTQ consumers feel better about buying products from brands that put LGBTQ people in their ads. Getty Images

Key insight:

Consumers who have been more exposed to LGBTQ people through the media are more likely to accept them, according to a new study from CPG manufacturer Procter & Gamble and the media advocacy group GLAAD.

The study, based on survey data from over 2,000 non-LGBTQ U.S. adults, found that viewers exposed to media images featuring members of the LGBTQ community in the past three months were more likely to say they’ve become more accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary and transgender people in recent years than viewers who had not.

“When you have greater visibility of people who are LGBTQ, then you increase acceptance,” Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, said. “It’s human nature that familiarity can lead to a greater degree of acceptance.”

Not only do levels of acceptance rise by showcasing LGBTQ people in the media, but brands benefit as well. The study found that 68% of non-LGBTQ U.S. consumers feel better about buying products from companies that include LGBTQ people in their advertisements. In addition, the majority of respondents indicated that they felt companies that include LGBTQ people in ads are socially responsible (76%), treat all their employees with respect (82%) and are committed to offering products to all types of customers (85%).

Companies gain from including LGBTQ people in ads, Pritchard explained, because it “shows that they see people and they understand people, and that creates a higher degree of trust.”

Other data points revealed that 79% of survey participants who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in the media lately said they felt comfortable having a new LGBTQ family with children move into their neighborhood, while 72% of respondents who hadn’t seen a member of the LGBTQ community in an ad or film lately felt the same. Likewise, 69% of the former group indicated an openness to starting a conversation with a person whose gender wasn’t clear, compared to 60% of the latter group.

“The findings of this study send a strong message to brands and media outlets that including LGBTQ people in ads, films and TV is good for business and good for the world,” Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Both Pritchard and Ellis were also involved with Adweek’s D&I summit today, and Ellis is a member of Adweek’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.

But it’s not as straightforward as simply putting a gay individual front and center in a commercial. Pritchard acknowledged the danger of presenting LGBTQ stereotypes and caricatures and advised those in doubt to “ask somebody who understands.”

Last year, P&G’s shaving brand Gillette released an ad showcasing a father teaching his transgender son how to shave. Pritchard argued that the spot worked because it was accurate and human.

“Shaving is a very important ritual, a rite of passage,” said Pritchard. “So, it makes sense for Gillette to show a transgender man shaving for the first time with his dad.”

Not everyone is behind the idea of acceptance and tolerance. Last year, nearly one-third of Americans were opposed to same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center. Pritchard isn’t too concerned about backlash, though.

“We serve all people, and so while there may be some who disagree, we’ll just agree to disagree,” he said. “We’ll accurately reflect all people and continue to move forward.”

Earlier this year, Hallmark Channel CEO Bill Abbott left the company following controversy over the network pulling ads from wedding registry and planning brand Zola that featured a same-sex couple getting married.

During a virtual media event earlier this morning, Pritchard gave the advertising industry a grade of “incomplete” on LGBTQ visibility, saying that the industry is still in the early stages of LGBTQ inclusion and has much to learn.

As for receiving a passing grade, Pritchard said that would happen when LGBTQ people appearing in advertising becomes normal and “we weren’t having this conversation” anymore.

@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.