Contextual targeting is "really key" for digital Pride marketing in 2021

As the pandemic ebbs, brands continue to invest online. But to do it right, they'll have to find context and creative that truly supports the LGBTQ+ community

LGBTQ+ communities worldwide are gearing up for their annual Pride events, where people from all walks of life gather to celebrate, protest, and otherwise mark their fight for civil rights. This year, however, is different. As we cautiously emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, these events are likely to be scaled back and hybrid live/digital affairs. To make the most of the season, digital marketers are investing the balance of their Pride marketing budgets into digital.

We spoke to Jerry Daykin, EMEA senior media buyer for GSK Consumer Healthcare and Lucy McKillop, head of brand marketing at Clear Channel UK about how to reach this lucrative consumer segment in an authentic, purpose-driven way. Both are members of Outvertising, a not-for-profit LGBTQ+ advertising industry advocacy group committed to improving representation in advertising and in the advertising industry.

Pride celebrations are huge events for the LGBTQ+ community and marketers alike. This year and last, physical events have been cancelled or at least scaled back or postponed. Has there been a rise in investment in digital campaigns to offset the loss of this traditional focal point?

Jerry: Yes, there has certainly been an increase in advertisers being aware of the opportunity and the needs or the opportunities to place adverts in LGBT publications to do partnerships, to find different ways of spending the money. I very much doubt that all the money that would've gone into sort of sponsorships and activations has moved there. I think there's been positive progress, but I doubt the online investment has made up for what we're missing out on in the real world.

What does the digital/physical budget split look like this year vs. 2019?

Jerry: Historically, it's probably been something like 80% physical and 20% digital. So, a really heavy focus on being at events, doing real world events, maybe even 90% physical. Last year, it was almost 100% virtual. This year, it's probably something like, 70-80% virtual and 20-30% physical in the UK. We still are expecting some events. For instance, London Pride has been delayed to September.

Wow, that would be a great way to ring in some kind of normalcy. But even so, Pride is no longer one of just a few ways to reach the community. There are more LGBTQ+ outlets and more LGBTQ+ content than ever in mainstream publications. How does that affect how buyers approach direct and programmatic deals?

Jerry:  Oh gosh. I think one of the questions that always comes up is, can you not just reach LGBT audiences through mainstream titles? And of course, to a large extent you can. Gay and lesbian people watch TV, they go on Facebook, et cetera.

But I think there's certainly really positive benefits being aligned with supporting LGBT+ content.

Do brands who want the LGBTQ+ community's money have a responsibility to support LGBTQ+ content?

Lucy: Yes, I would say yes, they do. Ten years ago, you could probably argue that that purpose and profit were divorced from one another. You didn't necessarily have to be purpose-driven to make a profit. In the modern era, people are much, much more inclined to look at what brands stand for if they support the community, what they're actually doing to back that up.

Jerry: We like to encourage people to think of their media not just as an investment in their brands, but also an investment in the kind of the content around it. So appearing on LGBT titles or on like positive LGBT coverage in mainstream media helps fund that editorial, helps encourage that to exist. And in fact, one "watch out" we've seen is that brands' overly sensitive keywords will actually defund mainstream articles talking positively about the LGBT community. If you're an editor working for a title and every time you write something about gay or lesbian or any of those, if you find that it gets defunded or doesn't get budget, that disincentivizes you to do it. So for brands that are serious about supporting the community, they absolutely should try and appear alongside that content.

So, context is key.

Jerry: Context is really key because there's some sensitivity around people's LGBT status. They might use a shared computer and they might not be publicly out or something. So it's a territory in which being relevant to content makes a lot of sense and where we would have a lot of caution about trying to use data to target people that you think might be LGBT, but on different sites, et cetera. So, yeah, context really is key.

You mentioned keyword blocklists defunding LGBTQ+ sites, but using contextual tools to target content around LGBTQ+ issues can cut the other way. How do you make sure your ads aren't inadvertently supporting hateful content?

Jerry: You know, there's a big programmatic world out there. You're looking at the entire internet, there's huge amounts of content, so you need technology. Brand safety technologies tend to have a good understanding of keywords and contexts and things. So we've been turning that kind of technology on its head and saying, as well as excluding negative opportunities, can we use that to help us understand contextually positive opportunities? Various tech platforms or networks or publishers are able to kind of bring some more nuance and some understanding.

You need a partner who can help you understand some of that context. There are many, unfortunately negative things written about the LGBT community. So you have to be really careful that you work with  a tech or publisher platform that can help sift between what is a positive, relevant story—whether it's a story specifically about the LGBT community or around affinity interests and passion points—or hate speech or negative stories.

In the past, some in the community have accused brands of "pink-washing" their advertisements in order to cash in on Pride season. Is it safer for brands to skip it altogether and focus more generally on more authentic representation?

Lucy: Well look, everyone has to start somewhere. It's really important that we don't eviscerate people for making well-intentioned attempts to be supportive of the community. I'd also like to think that the community is tolerant enough to say, ‘Okay, this wasn't quite right, but here's how you do it.'

Changing your logo to a rainbow is a well-meaning signal of visual allyship. That is a great step. But now I want to be able to see that you've created some content throughout the year that has [LGBTQ+] people in it, that has a production team that has some kind of footing or anchor in the community, so that it's more authentic. There has to be more depth.

Do you have a good example of that?

Lucy: One that springs to mind would be [GSK's] Sensodyne, the toothpaste brand, teaming up with Gay Times and creating content specifically for the LGBT audience by the LGBT audience in media placed in front of the LGBT audience. It was very upbeat. It was kind of it's the first time that you've seen a traditional, almost clinical brand shifting away from their kind of core value of being a dentists' choice to having much more colorful person-based advertising. It's important to highlight experiences, not just being a gay person, but doing really boring stuff that absolutely everyone in the world has to do, like brushing your teeth.

Jerry: We did one around our Voltaren pain cream brand. And that was much more like a kind of purposeful Pride campaign that you're perhaps used to seeing where we partnered with a local UK-based sports charity, and we supported a number of LGBT sports clubs to kind of help them adapt and work differently during COVID. And we told the stories of some of their members, and it was very much like being LGBT was the focus of that content.

I think both are really relevant and important. I'm a gay man myself. It's nice to see myself represented quite casually in adverts when they show families, they show relationships, and when they show couples. It doesn't have to be a whole story  about being LGBT, but it's just nice to be represented there. It's great for brands to do something that's more purposeful or charitable about supporting the community. I think LGBT people welcome that.

Do mainstream brand managers have a nuanced enough understanding of the LGBTQ+ community to be able to create and field that kind of campaign?

Lucy: Look, the McKinsey report around diversity shows that increased representation across all kinds of protected characteristics eventually ends up increasing profitability. But no, I don't think that your bog standard media buyer is going to know the difference between the buying patterns of genderqueer persons versus, you know, a bear.

I am a heteronormative-identifying bisexual woman, who came out three years ago and every single day I learn more about the different kind of expressions of self. There is a glossary out there and it blew my mind when I opened it. There are so many people, so many different kinds of identifying factors. It's really important that we create content that tries to represent as many different types of people as we can. And the nuance is only going to come if you have a foot in that community.

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