Which Companies in 2015 Care Most about LGBT Rights?

Written by | Lifestyle

Happy co-workers

This year, in our annual look at how the corporate world interacts with the LGBT community, we showcase how businesses have reached out to us through advertising, how they’re doing it with increasing specificity and how that’s changed over time.

In 1992, Metrosource published an article titled “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: How Far Will Madison Avenue Go to Court the Gay Consumer?” The piece led off with two facts:

Fact 1

Gay men purchase more condoms per capita than straight men.

Fact 2

A significant percentage of lesbians own four or more cats or dogs.

Despite these facts, at the time, we weren’t seeing much advertising from national condom advertisers to gay men; nor were pet food makers lining up to advertise to lesbians.

Remember 1992? It was the year Sinead O’Connor ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, Candice Bergen won the Emmy for Murphy Brown and Bill Clinton was about to ascend to the presidency. Whether it feels like just yesterday or ancient history, the world has certainly moved in a positive direction for the LGBT community ever since.

Advocating for Advertising

By 1992, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) had already been promoting lesbian and gay media visibility for seven years. Donald Suggs, GLAAD’s then Director of Public Affairs, said, “To have lesbians and gay men absent from advertising, or not to have advertising directed at our community by mainstream advertisers, is discrimination, plain and simple.”

Today GLAAD continues to rewrite the script for LGBT acceptance. One of the most comprehensive resources they’ve created is their Ad Library, an archive of over 4,000 LGBT-inclusive ads. For their #GLAADat30 campaign (celebrating 30 years of culture changing work), the organization created a timeline tracking some of their biggest victories. Included is the 1993 American Advertising Award they received for a billboard posted throughout California depicting an expecting lesbian couple with the words “Another Traditional Family.” Also present is their “Images” campaign from that same year, which introduced subway riders to LGBT New Yorkers.

More recently (in 2009), GLAAD introduced their Advertising Media Program to promote fair, accurate, and inclusive LGBT representations in advertising. That same year, Alan Cumming hosted the first annual GLAAD Media Awards in Advertising. And last year, they hosted an LGBT panel at Advertising Week, which featured executives from DIRECTV,
Tylenol and Omnicon Media Group adressing the subject of LGBT-Inclusive Advertising in a Post-Marriage Equality America.

The Change Continues

In the summer of 2014 Charlie Joughin, Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said, “In the past, most companies and brands rarely — if ever — used LGBT-specific themes in marketing or advertisements. Today, companies are focusing sharply on the quickly changing research demonstrating that a vast majority of Americans support LGBT equality. Businesses recognize that it is incredibly unpopular to be anti-gay, and in fact, now view a pro-equality stance as a way to entice the millions of fair-minded Americans who champion LGBT civil rights as an important issue.”
Joughin saluted outreach efforts including Marriott International’s #LoveTravels campaign, Apple’s LGBT Pride station on iTunes Radio, Honey Maid’s social media campaign featuring graham crackers in the shape of the HRC’s iconic logo, AT&T’s “Live Proud” campaign, Nike’s #BETRUE apparel line, General Mills’ use of their iconic Lucky Charms as the face of its Pride promotions, and Ben & Jerry’s slogan “Love Comes in All Flavors.”

By the Numbers

Reaching the LGBT community was once guesswork, but not anymore. Because of organizations like Community Marketing & Insights (CMI), which has been conducting LGBT research for over 20 years, there are now studies for major corporations and brands including Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, Hallmark, Target, The Walt Disney Company and Prudential Financial. In their 2015 survey, they worked with over 20,000 respondents from 96 countries. Here’s what they found:

  • LGBT men and women are equally likely to describe themselves as online and mobile shoppers who research purchases.
  • Pro-LGBT policies and corporate LGBT outreach encourage the LGBT community to purchase brands including Apple, Starbucks, Target, Amazon, Home Depot, Nabisco, JC Penney, Macy’s, American Airlines, Wells Fargo, Google, Subaru, Gap Inc., Absolut Vodka, and Costco.
  • 74% surveyed noted Chick-fil-A as a brand they are boycotting. Other boycotted companies include Exxon Mobil, Barilla Pasta, Hobby Lobby, and Cracker Barrel.

Meanwhile, Witeck Communications and MarketResearch.com projected the total buying power of the U.S. LGBT adult population to be $884 billion as of 2014. Its CEO Bob Witeck said, “Buying power estimates offer a snapshot of the overlooked economic contributions of America’s diverse LGBT households.”
“LGBT buying power is an economic marker that helps benchmark America’s diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Justin Nelson, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Co-Founder and President. “At NGLCC, we have more than 150 corporate partners that understand not only the value of the LGBT dollar, but the economics of inclusivity and loyalty.”

Back in 1992, when Metrosource noted that 75% of the gay population would be more likely to make purchases based on advertising in gay media. We also posed the question, “So where’s all the advertising?” Since then major corporations have stepped up by not only targeting the gay consumer but also by running ads with gay themes in the mainstream. Let’s look at how some of these companies have shown they care — through advertising and community outreach.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo’s formal commitment to the LGBT community dates back to 1987 when they added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policy. They were the first American bank to feature a lesbian couple in a major campaign with their “Learning Sign Language” ad.

This year, in celebration of Pride Month, Wells Fargo shared a story of inclusion and acceptance about loan specialist Suzette Keener, who credits Wells Fargo and its PRIDE Team Member Network for inspiring her to accept her lesbian daughter. Wells Fargo will also be present at over 60 Pride events across the country with their theme “Together is Beautiful,” and the company will also celebrate Pride a with something new in their Card Design Studio: The Pride Collection. These new financial services cards feature custom-designed artwork developed in a special partnership with the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives and the GLBT Historical Society.

Johnson & Johnson

“Caring for the world, one person at a time,“ is the motto that inspires and unites the team at Johnson & Johnson. The brand teamed up with leading gay marketing agency Target 10 for Care With Pride, a multi-faceted campaign connecting with and supporting the LGBT community. In 2005, Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol PM also depicted two men in bed together with text that read, “His back is keeping him up,” beneath one and “His boyfriend’s backache is keeping him up,” beneath the other. In 2014, the company debuted their “For What Matters Most” campaign, which featured diverse inclusive families at Thanksgiving dinner, (meant to evoke images of Norman Rockwell Americana). This year, Tylenol’s #HowWeFamily campaign — directed by Dustin Lance Black — sends the message that “Family isn’t defined by who you love, but how” with videos that feature African-American, lesbian, gay, biracial, and single parent families.


Rosie O’Donnell, Portia de Rossi, Sir Ian McKellen, and Adam Lambert have all joined Lexus for intimate interviews about their lives through their “It Got Better” series. Lexus developed these and other L/Studio videos as a way to reach consumers once considered outside mainstream advertising. But “It Got Better” isn’t Lexus’ first outreach to gay drivers. In 2013, the company sponsored a road trip series featuring couple Steve and Wade driving a Lexus LS 460 from Washington, D.C. to NYC and friends Josh and Justin driving from San Francisco to LA in an IS 350 F Sport AWD.

Recently Lexus’ 2016 RX 350 SUV campaign directly reached out to the LGBT market in their “Ahead of the Curve” ad. In it, a stylish gay couple start their day in an avant-garde home; one man grabs his briefcase and strolls outside to his Lexus RX. The house clearly mirrors the sculpted body of the RX, illustrating how the SUV was engineered for a modern lifestyle. The campaign has appeared on broadcast, digital, print, and out-of-home media with television spots airing during prime time, late night, cable, and even sports programming.

“Our best-selling luxury crossover has been reimagined inside and out, appealing to modern families and youthful, culturally engaged customers,” said Brian Smith, Lexus vice president of marketing. “The RX defined the luxury crossover segment when it first launched in 1998. This marketing campaign illustrates how we’ve transformed the RX and re-defined sophistication.”

Honey Maid/Nabisco

“Our new campaign creative taps into a cultural insight that is rooted in the change of the American family dynamic,” said Katrina Plummer on behalf of Honey Maid/Mondelez International. “In 2016, we’re encouraging Americans to view the world through the eyes of acceptance and remember that no matter how families might change, just like our products, what makes them wholesome remains the same.”

Two years ago, Honey Maid graham crackers unveiled “Dad & Papa,”a commercial that showed the love two fathers have for their son and newborn baby. The concept in their latest campaign, “This is Wholesome” depicts five real American families — including a Hispanic gay couple and their kids — each sharing a story of acceptance. In a press release to launch the campaign, the company declared, “The outcome of acceptance is a sense of belonging – one of our most fundamental needs as humans.”

To combat LGBT marginalization and intolerance, the brand also recently introduced their “Wholesome Button,” a browser app that allows users to navigate through the Internet with a greater emphasis on “acceptance and positivity.”


Bud Light kicked off Pride season with a fun new advertisement for “The Bud Light Party” featuring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer at a same-sex wedding. Alex Lambrecht, VP of Bud Light at Anheuser-Busch was quoted saying that “by featuring Seth and Amy at a same-sex wedding, we’re showing how all weddings — regardless of who is getting married — share many similarities and moments to celebrate. We created this spot because equality for all Americans is a concept that unites many Bud Light drinkers.”

“June is the height of wedding season, and it is also LGBT Pride month in America,” the brand elaborated. “That’s why right now is the time to spark a national conversation by celebrating every kind of wedding – and everyone’s right to marry whoever they choose.” LGBT Advertising isn’t new territory for Anheuser-Busch (who make Bud Light). The company ran an advertisement in 1999 depicting two men holding hands with the slogan: “Be yourself and make it a Bud Light.” They have also supported LGBT events like Gay Days Orlando, Aspen Gay Ski Week, and Long Beach Pride.

JC Penney

JC Penney weathered controversy from conservatives groups after naming Ellen DeGeneres as their media spokeswoman. The company caused an even greater stir in 2012 upon releasing a Father’s Day print ad showing real-life same-sex couple Todd Koch and Cooper Smith hugging their two children. The accompanying copy read: “What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver — all rolled into one. Or two.”

The company still subscribes to the principles set down by founder James Cash Penney. “We carry on this legacy by building richly diverse teams and treating everyone with dignity and respect,” Kate Coultas said on behalf of JC Penney. “We believe our diversity and different points of view help us fit the needs of our diverse customers and be leaders in the retail industry.” JC Penney was also selected one of the HRC’s Best Places to Work for 2016.


Macy’s is an LGBT ally with a long track record: their first ad in gay media ran in February of 2000. In 2008, the company created an ad supporting marriage equality in California. At the same time, 253 of Macy’s East stores — including their Herald Square flagship — observed Pride with display windows or sponsored events. After the California Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage, the company ran several full-page newspaper ads in LA and San Francisco that read: “First comes love. Then comes marriage. And now it’s a milestone every couple in California can celebrate.”

Just this past June, Macy’s observed national LGBTQ Pride month with a campaign titled “Pride + Joy,” which features an array of in-store events, parades, commemorative advertising and sponsorships. “Macy’s is proud to continue our support for the LGBTQ community through our annual Pride + Joy campaign,” wrote William Hawthorne of Macy’s. “Whether it’s through events, our practices or via partnerships with LGBTQ organizations like the Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign (among other organizations), we are steadfast in our commitment to being an inclusive company as we support our employees, customers and the communities in which we do business.”

Customers can also shop Love Bravery, a line of clothing and accessories by Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John meant to inspire compassion and combat prejudice. Available exclusively at Macy’s, 25 percent of its retail price benefits the Born This Way Foundation and Elton John AIDS Foundation. Additionally, on Macys.com, customers can also purchase Proposition Love jewelry, which supports the fight for LGBT equality. Proposition Love donates 10 percent of its profits to organizations that support gay rights and marriage equality.

Ben & Jerry’s

There are few corporations that get into Gay Pride like Ben & Jerry’s. A staunch supporter of gay rights since 1989, Ben & Jerry’s was the first major employer in Vermont to offer health insurance to domestic partners of their employees, including same sex couples. In addition to awarding grants to PFLAG organizations, and supporting both Vermont’s Civil Union Bill, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act they celebrated gay marriage in Vermont by temporarily renaming their “Chubby Hubby” flavor “Hubby Hubby.”

In 2012, they supported marriage equality in the UK with the flavor: “Apple-y Ever After.” They also supported marriage equality in Ireland with the flavor “EngageMint Party” and in Australia with the flavor “I Dough, I Dough.” They also renamed their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream “I Dough, I Dough” for an entire summer at participating U.S. Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops nationwide. In addition to name changes, their “Love is Love” campaign has continued throughout social media and videos. One video features Tori and Shante Wolfe-Sisson, the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Alabama.

Tiffany & Co

Tiffany’s launched a campaign called “Will You” in 2015 featuring six couples (including a gay pair), proposing. “Nowadays, the road to marriage is no longer linear,” a company spokeswoman said. “True love can happen more than once with love stories coming in a variety of forms.” Fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh shot the campaign, which is accompanied by the text, “Will you promise to never stop completing my sentences or singing off-key, which I’m afraid you do often?… And will you let today be the first sentence of one long story that never, ever ends?”


Starbucks’ big LGBT Ad came out in 2014 and featured Adore Delano and Bianca Del Rio of RuPaul’s Drag Race fighting in line over who will get served first. However, Starbucks’ Alisha Damodaran told us, “Starbucks has always believed in equal treatment of all of our partners [read: employees] and has a long history and commitment to our LGBTQ partners.”
“Beginning over 20 years ago, we began offering health insurance covering partners in domestic partnerships,” Damodaran added. “More recently, we broadened our health care coverage to include gender reassignment surgery. We believe that this level of accessibility to health care is a leading practice that all employers and providers should offer.”

In June of 2014, Anthony Hesseltine, a sourcing manager for Starbucks supplier diversity program, came up with the idea to fly the Pride flag atop its Seattle headquarters (at 800 square feet, it was called the largest in Seattle). HRC has also rated Starbucks as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

A Few More for the Road

Additional companies notable for their gay-family inclusive advertising include Allstate, Campbell’s, and Famous Footwear. Allstate’s “Here’s to firsts” campaign featured two dads with their baby girl. Campbell’s “Star Wars” chicken noodle soup commercial featured two dads and their son dressed as Darth Vader. Famous Footwear’s commercial “Family Dinner, a Time to Reconnect” features a “new normal” family and their two children.

It’s also worth mentioning the impact that social media has had on marketing and outreach to the LGBT community. Never was this more apparent than during the Supreme Court decision that secured national same-sex marriage. Companies showed their support on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in solidarity with the LGBT community — including JELL-O, Lucky Charms, Stolichnaya Vodka, Kellogg’s, American Airlines, Miller Lite, Cherrio’s, Mastercard, VISA, UNIQLO, Macy’s, GAP, Maytag, Levis, Delta, Uber, Sears, Tide, Snickers, Chobani, Coca-Cola, Heineken, Doritos, Kool-Aid, KFC and Burt’s Bees.

More recently (on Valentine’s Day of this year) Adidas shared a photograph of two ladies in matching shoes with the accompanying caption “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” To critics of the ad, the company responded with two emojis: one of a kiss and the other of a hand waving goodbye.

A 1992 Metrosource appraisal of LGBT advertising reported that we had already “come a long way.“ We can now report that inclusivity is closer to the rule than than the exception.

Check out last year’s Companies that Care

Last modified: September 17, 2018