Marketing to the LGBT community is just a small part of the larger initiative to celebrate all diversity, whether referencing sexual orientation, race or gender. This initiative towards more diverse marketing is starting to become a necessity for advertisers in all industries, and financial services are no different. According to The LGBT Financial Experience, a 2012-13 study from Prudential, participants rank the industry’s attention to their financial needs low. This study also found that LGBT Americans are far less confident about their financial preparedness, with only 14% indicating they are well prepared, compared with 29% of the general population. Although a couple of years old, this study indicates that financial brands have a unique opportunity to improve their perception and create a more dedicated marketing approach that could have appeal for this group of consumers. Despite this opportunity, so far the financial services industry has lagged behind the rest of the marketing world when it comes to featuring same-sex couples or messaging about the LGBT community in marketing efforts.

Wells Fargo was the first bank in the country to take this ground-breaking approach to advertising with a television spot that aired in April of this year, months before the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage. Wells Fargo’s ad carried a serious, tear-jerking premise of two women in the process of adopting a deaf child.

This summer, TD Bank became only the second bank to air a major television ad in the U.S. featuring a same-sex couple. To illustrate TD Bank’s latest “Bank Human” campaign, the ad, called “Cash Me if You Can,” shows the humorous side of a couple’s typical struggle to keep their spending on track  and the ad highlights the bank’s mobile tracking features to help the couple save for a much-needed vacation. Although this was the Canadian bank’s first TV commercial featuring LGBT couples, TD Bank previously has featured gay and lesbian couples in a variety of ads placed in Canadian newspapers and magazines.

While the U.S. financial industry is slowly embracing this progressive approach to advertising, the retail, food and drink, and even auto industries broke through this controversial barrier a while ago. Back in 2012, value department store JCPenney featured lesbian moms with their kids in its monthly catalog (sent to an estimated 14 million customers nationwide) to honor Mother’s Day. In July 2012, mass merchandiser Target showed its support for same-sex couples – and “being yourself” – by releasing a wedding registry ad featuring two men. At the same time, Target also carried a line of same-sex wedding cards and LGBT Pride t-shirts, of which a portion of the proceeds were donated to the Family Equality Council.

More recently, in June of this year, Delta Air Lines launched a Father’s Day video called “Airplane.” In the video, real dads – including a same-sex couple – are shown playing airplane with their children or using the airplane trick to get them to eat. The copy at the end of the ad reads, “To all the pilots on the ground, Happy Father’s Day.” Also in June, Target launched the “Take Pride” campaign, which celebrates LGBT Pride Month. The video for the campaign highlights several pride events and shows multiple same-sex couples. The end of the spot features a voiceover that says, “We’re not born with pride. We take pride. Pride in celebrating who we’re born to be.”

The Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT advocacy group, estimates that the LGBT community held $830 million in buying power in 2013. Additionally, a 2013 LGBT report from Experian Marketing Services reported that married or partnered gay men have the highest household income compared with married or partnered heterosexual men. There is a significant amount of financial influence among this group.

26% of US Millennial females (19-25) say equal rights for the LGBT community is an important social issue

What TD Bank, Wells Fargo and all of the other marketers that have already produced LGBT content are telling us is that brands cannot ignore the LGBT community. It’s not just about appealing to a small subsect of the consumer marketplace, but sending the message that a brand is inclusive, and that is what’s going to resonate with customers and prospects. This becomes increasingly important when marketing to Millennials. According to Mintel’s report Marketing to Millennials US 2014, Millennials are 41% more likely than adults overall to say that equal rights for the LGBT community is one of the three social issues most important to them.

Unfortunately, ads like Wells Fargo’s pioneering TV commercial have been met with a fair share of criticism. This is unavoidable when illustrating controversial topics in advertising. How these banks stand up to that criticism, however, is just another opportunity to show their true dedication to diversity and inclusion.

The struggle with marketing to the LGBT community, as with marketing to many consumers segments, is the risk of re-enforcing a variety of stereotypes or clichés.  Marketers may find success in mirroring real life scenarios to which all couples can relate, but for the short-term, the overall approach may require a little more research and testing. In the end, it’s about strengthening a brand through perception and accepting that there is strength in diversity.

Lily Harder is the Vice President of Research for Mintel Comperemedia. Lily specializes in the financial services industry, researching and presenting on the latest industry trends, competitive intelligence insights and newsworthy developments.

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