It used to be rare to see black actors in American television ads. “You didn't think black people watched television because they didn't appear in commercials,” said Bob Witeck, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing consultant. “It's as if we didn't know consumers came in different colors, let alone sexual orientations.”
The inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender narratives is the next frontier for marketing executives in healthcare and other industries, said Witeck, who advises businesses on marketing to LGBT communities.
“The reality that any marketer would tell you is that people respond to images and portrayals that look like them,” said Erica Neufeld, marketing director at Boston Medical Center, which recently featured a gay couple in an ad campaign encouraging people to seek primary care.
Aetna, Kaiser Permanente and Boston Medical are healthcare organizations that have included LGBT themes in their marketing and advertising. But the healthcare industry overall isn't embracing LGBT narratives in marketing as much as some consumer products companies and retailers, said Stephen Macias, senior vice president of the national LGBT practice for MWW, an East Rutherford, N.J.-based public relations firm.
“When we work with (nonhealthcare) clients in our LGBT practice, much of what's being laid out now is inclusive advertising that is going to be a game changer in 2016,” Macias said. “We don't see the same focus out of the healthcare industry.”
That may be because healthcare organizations generally produce a small number of ads each year, and don't have the marketing resources to target particular market niches. Some health systems participate in gay pride parades and place ads in LGBT publications and business directories, though they're not necessarily including explicitly LGBT people in ads to the general market.
But experts say healthcare marketers need to pay more attention to the LGBT market, which has significant purchasing power. They say there are cost-effective ways to reach out to that market, including the use of marketing materials that include LGBT people along with other diverse groups.