April, 2014 / Author:

Including same-sex couples in ads can pay off

The traditional family unit has slowly dwindled over the years. The stereotypical ’50s advertisement featuring the picture-perfect family eating dinner at 5 p.m. with mom, dad and two children is no longer the norm. This begs the question, what does the normal family unit look like in today’s media? But more importantly, what does “normal” really mean?

Although advertisers have realized thatthe conventional family structure haschanged, there is still a lack of proper representation of GLBTQ* families in the media. Companies have yet to fully embrace the new forms of different family structures. Television shows like Modern Family fully accept how society has changed. The show offers an eclectic variety of different family structures, including the gay couple with the adopted child and the divorcee who remarries with stepchildren. The family structures of the

21st century have endless possibilities, yet very few advertisers have begun to create marketing campaigns directed at GLBTQ* families. However, even those few representations of gay couples in the media are commonly those of gay men, and not women.

Adding to this neglect, advertisers commonly try and duplicate the nuclear family of mom, dad and their 2 children by placing one man as the breadwinner and the other man as the more feminine partner, promoting a close representation of what is erroneously considered the “normal” family structure.



Mike Trakalo, social media strategist at Cruise Media Group, said that depicting gay people can get a conversation started. It brings people to the brand, but it also attaches the brand to a particular image. On the other hand, using gay depictions in advertising can be used to attract a large market that not a lot of businesses are currently targeting.

The point of an ad is ultimately to create sales, but a good ad needs to evoke emotion, said Trakalo. He pointed to the ad for Get Up!, an independent grassroots community advocacy organization. The ad is shot from a first-person’s viewpoint. It’s clearly one part ofa couple, taking the video of a man in the relationship. At the end of the video the audience finds out the videographer is a man. They’re in a same-sex relationship. Trakalo said there was so much negative reaction to this ad partly because some people felt they were tricked. Meanwhile, social media exploded over the ad, making it go viral almost immediately.

Trakalo also pointed out the importance of targeted advertising. “It’s important to be clear on where you’re marketing, [and] to whom,” said Trakalo. If there are too many ads featuring GLBTQ* people, others might not think the product is meant for them. At the same time, you can’t market a product so that it’s for everyone. “The smaller you can make the target market, the more money you can put into that,” said Trakalo. If you’re targeting everyone, only a small amount of the budget will go towards each group; if you’re targeting a smaller group, then you have more dollars to get their attention. When it comes to the GLBTQ* community, there is potential to invest in targeted advertising, while still offering other ads for different markets.



Some companies, like Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), seem to have found a good balance. “Here at RBC, we believe in diversity,” said Robb Ritchie, RBC manager of public affairs and communications. That’s why they’ve been featuring same-sex couples in their ads for over a decade. 

“The decision is very natural for us,” said Ritchie, because RBC wants to reflect their community, which is diverse. They’ve never had a negative reaction to their ads, as far as Ritchie knows. But there has been a lot of positive reactions.

And the bank goes beyond featuring members of the community in ads. It also reaches out to help. In Winnipeg, RBC sponsors events such as the Swish Gala and Bison Cup Bonspiel. They send volunteers to all sponsored events, they painted the basement of Rainbow Resource Centre, and have members on the Centre’s board. 



The advertising agency Young & Rubicam has had many clients who have been pioneers in same-sex advertising and campaigning. Others have been exploring their options because the GLBTQ* community is a huge market. Fashion and design companies have done a great job of tailoring campaigns to the community, but really any company would benefit from targeting GLBTQ* people.

Eventually there will be a better representation of the GLBTQ* community within the advertising world, but nothing will ever be perfect. As awareness grows and new family structures become the norm, advertising will follow.

How does the lack of representation of GLBTQ* people in advertising make you feel? Let us know on our Facebook page, email editor@outwords.ca or Tweet us @OutWords.

– Meg Crane is the news, books and movies editor for OutWords magazine, and creator of Cockroach zine.
– Jefre Nicholls is the fashion editor for OutWords.

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