Why LGBTQ diversity is important for PR and marketing

“That Coke is a Fanta” is an unfortunate Brazilian expression that is one of many pejorative epithets that have been used against gay, lesbian, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people around the world. So, when the marketers at Coca-Cola’s Brazilian division decided to take on “That Coke is a Fanta” and stand against bigotry and hatred directed at the LGBTQ community—even in the form of a seemingly innocuous and widely accepted catchphrase—people took notice. Coke totally upended the expression by packaging Fanta fruit-flavored sodas in traditional red-and-white Coke cans that said, “This Coke is a Fanta, so what?”

So what, indeed! Backed by a social and advertising campaign that generated millions of impressions, Coke used the power of culturally diverse marketing, PR and promotions to turn the epithet into something fun—and truly powerful for the brand. Today, examples of culturally diverse and cause-based marketing abound. This is because cultural diversity is not just a goal, it’s a business imperative. Research has proven that diverse companies perform better than ones that are not, and why on earth would any company want to offend a subset of its customers, gay, lesbian or otherwise?

For example, a recent Walmart spot about two men going on a blind date got a great deal of attention, as did an ad for Cottonelle toilet paper, making the case that Cottonelle helped this man feel more confident about an upcoming meeting with his boyfriend’s parents. My opinion on the topic is that triggering fringe groups can actually be good publicity and that controversy as a marketing tactic has its place in spreading normalizing and inclusive messages about LGBTQ people (and other minorities) across society.

The most successful companies are truly embracing diversity and integrating inclusion as part of their brand. Apple, Salesforce and Google come to mind as good brand stewards in this area. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff really illustrated the company’s commitment when the U.S. state of Indiana passed a strongly anti-LGBTQ law by pulling all of the company’s resources and spending out of the state. Those moves by Salesforce could have potentially serious consequences for Indiana’s economy, while providing a strong show of support for the LGBTQ community and clearly illustrate that the company is “walking the talk” when it comes to human rights.

Just as it is an absolute that every company on the planet has at least some LGBTQ customers, large organizations with diverse workforces will have LGBTQ employees. As such, cultural diversity matters in the area of “employee brand,” particularly when it comes to retaining talent in a competitive job market. As a top global brand, Visa has embraced employee diversity wholeheartedly and describes a vision that includes “everyone accepted, everywhere,” which, upon contemplation, is not much different from the brand promise of Visa’s payment services to consumers: global acceptance. Or, what is good for the customer is also good for the employee!

Clearly, embracing diversity is good business. Having a workforce that reflects cultural diversity and employees who also relate to consumers as individuals become essential to successfully going to market. Embracing diversity is not a cookie-cutter affair; marketers must be tuned into the audience and the culture, as Coke did with “This Coke is a Fanta.” Instead of using a serious tone, Coke made the campaign a Brazilian-style celebration of life and provided stunning visuals and social content to accompany its serious message. The combination created a truly authentic brand moment that was delivered with a light touch.

Balancing that light touch with a serious message is key to success with diversity campaigns. They should be driven by teams who truly understand the audience, and ideally creative teams will contain a fair representation of the target audience itself. And, in addition to the gut-check approach to vetting creative work, messages should be tested, and marketers should be prepared to adapt to trends, news events and social media themes as they come up.

Some might argue that diversity marketing is pandering, but it is actually a logical evolution of market segmentation, and top brands know that culturally diverse marketing works. Inclusion is important, and it makes good business sense. Our society is evolving, and the marketing function should evolve with it. And that is something we can all celebrate, with a Coke or a Fanta.


Written by Curtis Sparrer for CW Observer