WPP calls for marketers to go ‘beyond the rainbow’ to reach LGBTQ+

While it’s clear social attitudes and expectations about sexuality and gender identity have changed in recent years, and marketers have made efforts to change along with them, there is much work to be done when it comes to LGBTQ+ marketing according to “Beyond the Rainbow,” a new by WPP.

The report’s authors say activations and campaigns around Pride month are a good start, but marketers need to do more, even if they are uncertain about how to proceed. They hope that the study will help bring a new era of LGBTQ+ marketing by providing marketers and agencies with a better understanding of LGBTQ+ identities, and how to more meaningfully communicate with those consumers.

“Such an era would usher in a meaningful acknowledgment of LGBTQ+ audiences, where brands accept that to keep up with developing attitudes to sexuality and gender identity, they need to make the effort to understand LGBTQ+ communities, cultures and lifestyles—and not just for Pride month campaigns,” the study states.

The study was produced by WPP Unite, a group of LGBTQ+ people from across WPP.

“As more people identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, being genuine and inclusive in everything we do is more crucial than ever for brands to be relevant,” said David Adamson, founder and UK co-chair for WPP Unite. “At WPP, we can help advise on the best approach for inclusivity and representation, reflective of today’s changing culture.”

The report is based on a survey of 3,500 LGBTQ+ and 4,000 non-LGBTQ+ people across Canada, the U.S. and U.K., and dives deep into identity (how survey respondents see themselves), media and communications.

The data, some of which is eye-opening, presents a picture of LGBTQ+ marketing today, and how it must change for the future. For example:

  • 22% of 18-24 year olds identify as something other than “heterosexual,” compared to 9% of the general population.
  • 3.6% of 18-24 year olds identify as something other than “cisgender,” compared to just 1.3% for those 25-34 and 0.3% for those 35+.
  • 40% of those who identify as non-heterosexual are completely open about their identity at work.
  • 38% of LGBTQ+ respondents are satisfied with how LGBTQ+ people are represented in media.
  • 74% of LGBTQ+ respondents agree that LGBTQ+ representation in advertising has improved in recent years, though 67% want to see more advertising reflect LGBTQ+.
  • 74% of LGBTQ+ want to see brands do more outside of Pride season.


The research clearly showed how young people have fundamentally different attitudes and ideas about sexuality and gender identity. They are more fluid when it comes to their sexuality, and open toward non-binary thinking.

“It’s clear that marketers need to proactively keep pace with audiences’ changing attitudes to gender and sexuality,” said Adamson. “Start this journey internally. When the time comes to invest in refreshed segmentation and audience profiling, why not challenge your team to put more focus on understanding LGBTQ+ audiences within the make-up of your brand’s broader demographics?”

And while a large number of LGBTQ+ people are still not comfortable being out at work, the pressure is greater on those with lower incomes: 47% of high income respondents were completely open about their sexuality or gender identity at work, compared to just 34% of low-income respondents.


The internet has transformed the media landscape, providing new spaces to connect, share content and encourage LGBTQ+ creators—even if it’s not just for LGBTQ+ consumers.

While 90% of LGBTQ+ respondents said they seek out queer media, 60% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents also seek it out. The proliferation of queer content also changes and normalizes attitudes about LGBTQ+ lives, and for young people it plays a key role in making them feel comfortable with their own identity and those of others.

“Queer-specific/-owned media platforms are often discounted when a brief calls for reach,” said John Beardsworth, a partner at Essense MediaCom. “But we see with this data, particularly within younger demographics, the lines between straight and LGBTQ+ audiences continue to be blurred and/or questioned.”


In recent years, many marketers have taken steps to show LGBTQ+ support during Pride month. While brands putting a rainbow on their logo or flying a rainbow flag can lead to eye-rolls and accusations of “rainbow washing,” the authors found that many in the community appreciate the gesture, with 52% of LGBTQ+ saying they like when brands change their logo, while just 16% dislike it.

Support during Pride is just table stakes, and building true credibility requires year-round commitment, said Dan Flecker, brand director for Absolut Canada.

“The credibility comes from switching the brand objective from ‘driving positive brand perceptions or associations during Pride,’ to ‘giving the community a voice to drive progress and inclusivity,’” he said. “Brands have an opportunity to leverage their resources throughout the year to raise and amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ individuals, not for the objective of driving sales, but for the objective of driving progress and positive change for a marginalized community.”


Top Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

David Brown