LGBTQ Media Representation is Undergoing a Cultural Shift — research

Brands are in full rainbow-washing mode. But is this just a fluff piece? Or does it have teeth?

HomoCulture Gay Culture Brian Webb

This article was published on August 1st, 2022

Brands need to be better allies to LGBTQ consumers. According to Horowitz’s State of Consumer Engagement 2021 report, they represent 11% of American adults—and 55% of them see more ads featuring LGBTQ people and communities. Over half are seeing more LGBTQ lead actors (51%) and more LGBTQ people and communities represented positively in scripted shows (53%).

Indeed, it’s a great time to be in the LGBTQ community. Brands are rushing to use rainbow colors and symbols during Pride Month, and it’s clear that many of them are doing it out of genuine desire to show their support for the community.

But there’s a flip side to this coin. Half of consumers say they’re seeing more companies that are making a sincere effort towards diversity, equity, and inclusion in their business practices because they really want to do better. On the other hand, 40% are seeing more companies that are inconsistent in their DEI efforts.

Companies participating in “rainbow-washing” and that only support the LGBTQ community during this time of year run the risk of being seen as insincere. And this could lead to backlash: 66% of LGBTQ consumers 18+ have taken an action—either positive or negative—because of a company’s socio-political stances.

Diverse community

The LGBTQ community is a diverse one, and that’s a good thing. Not only does the community have a wide range of identities, but also have a wide range of experiences, which means it’s important to represent us accurately in advertising and media.

44% of LGBTQ consumers—and almost 4 in 10 consumers overall—say that it would have a positive impact on their decision to watch a show if it had an LGBTQ lead and/or if LGBTQ characters and communities are portrayed in positive ways.

In fact, Netflix leads for positive perception of offering diverse talent, followed by Amazon Prime and ABC.

When it comes down to it, inclusion matters—especially when it comes to Gen Z and younger audiences. According to Horowitz’s State of Gen Z 2021 report, one in three 13-24 year olds surveyed identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning queer, or other.

Being environmentally conscious, supporting the LGBTQ community, working for women’s rights, and supporting local businesses instead of large corporations are the issues most top of mind for this next generation of American consumers and voters.

 Cultural shift

There’s a cultural shift happening in the world of young people, and it’s one that will have a profound impact on the way media brands and advertisers think about how to connect with audiences going forward.

“There is a meaningful cultural shift happening among young people,” notes Adriana Waterston, Chief Revenue Officer and Insights & Strategy Lead for Horowitz Research. “The binary ways of thinking about gender and sexuality are dissipating, replaced by an understanding of gender as a spectrum and sexuality as inherently fluid. This will have a profound impact on the way media brands and advertisers think about how to connect with audiences going forward.”

Waterston’s point is well-taken: the current generation of young people is growing up in an environment where they’ve been exposed to LGBTQ content on a regular basis, and they’re not just accepting those representations, but actively seeking out those representations—and it’s not just limited to social media. They’re buying books about LGBTQ experiences and watching TV shows that center around LGBTQ experiences and their own identities.

The full State of Consumer Engagement 2021 report provides analysis of adults 18+ . The survey was conducted in September 2021 in English among 1,600 adults. Data have been weighted to ensure results are representative of the overall TV universe. The report is available in total market, FOCUS Latinx, FOCUS Black, and FOCUS Asian editions.

The full State of Gen Z 2021 report provides analysis of 13–24-year-olds. The survey was conducted in October 2021 in English and Spanish among 800 Gen Zers (13-24 year olds) in the U.S., with oversamples of Latinx, Black, and Asian. Data has been weighted to Census.

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