Clockwise, from top left: Advertisements for Tylenol, Target, Amtrak, and JCPenney.
Op-ed: How America Subconsciously Evolves

By Jeffrey Hartinger

Originally published on Advocate.com August 29 2012 9:09 AM ET

Living in New York City, I’m asked “What do you do?” at least a dozen times a week. Whether on a date, meeting friends for happy hour, or during a casual conversation with a new acquaintance, people are often excited to find out about a new friend’s career in The Big Apple. You just don’t know what you’ll find.

I should tell them I’m subconsciously shifting the attitudes and opinions of Americans to become more accepting and inclusive of LGBT Americans.

But I’m actually happy and proud to say that I’m in marketing. Due to the increasing acceptance and exposure of LGBT Americans, a new segment of marketing has slowly developed over the past decade or two for the LGBT community. Still, it seems, some people don’t understand the importance. Straight people often ask why there is a need to market specifically to gay and lesbian consumers, while some LGBT folks believe it puts a wedge between us and mainstream America.

After moving from Los Angeles this past year, I began work for SPI Marketing, a Manhattan-based firm that caters strictly to the LGBT population. It’s where I learned how marketing helps build a stronger alliance and sense of community among gays and lesbians while matching us with progressive companies. I see these trends and developments firsthand, and I’ve realized marketing’s importance to the evolution of the LGBT movement as a whole.

Those in my generation – Generation Y – are moving toward a place of full inclusiveness, which ultimately impacts the entertainment industry, media and advertising included. Gays and lesbians, collectively, are friends, roommates, coworkers, mentors. Gay individuals in their mid 20s and early 30s are generally open and embracing of their sexuality, and although it’s not a main indicator of all aspects of life, it’s still an important component.

All right, all right. I’m gay, but let’s go grab a drink and catch our favorite new band in the East Village. We are not over labels just yet, but we are over spending time with people who are exactly the same as us.

As a result, LGBT marketing campaigns will not only grow during the next few years,but also thrive as a new form of social awareness evolves and gays are seen as mainstream.

By working in LGBT marketing, I believe that I and a growing number of gay-friendly companies are drawing on the subconscious attitudes and beliefs of mainstream America. Goodbye, rainbow flags. Hello, normal. Well, whatever can be considered normal.

I’ve come to believe that those who are “middle-of-the-road” in regard to LGBT rights are persuaded far more by negative actions from antigay individuals – such as the Chick-fil-A drama of the past few months. And ultimately, the movable middle begins to side with the LGBT rights movement. The extremism of some groups, like those carrying signs that say “Faggots Rot In Hell” and “AIDS: The Cure for Homosexuality,” only pushes them further toward acceptance.

Americans may think, I don’t completely understand where gay individuals are coming from or why they feel that way, but I know I don’t think like these people. The closers, of course, are the subtle and tasteful marketing campaigns that showcase gay individuals as regular Americans; a Tylenol ad that features a lesbian couple and their son at the kitchen table, a JCPenney spread that honors LGBT parents for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and countless others from Ray-Ban, Absolut, Gap, Amtrak, Miller 64, and American Airlines, just to name a few.

No matter in what era or what part of the world we live, humans like to see our lives reflected back to us. We feed off things we connect to,  that we strive for, that we want.

Why were all the girls in my high school together on weeknights to watch the latest episode of Laguna Beach? Why do aspiring athletes spend hours in a stadium or in front of the television watching the sport they love? Why am I looking forward to The New Normal, a new television series from Ryan Murphy that shows the triumphs and struggles of a gay couple as they navigate bringing a child into the world? Because I want that to be my life – down the line.

It’s not only LGBT people who benefit from targeted marketing, but straight individuals too, because after all, they are some of our biggest supporters. While grabbing lunch with me in Manhattan a few weeks ago, a straight friend of mine spotted an LGBT-inclusive ad across the way. “Hey, look! There you are!” she said.

Yep. There I was.


JEFFREY HARTINGER is a 23-year-old living in New York City. He works for SPI Marketing, is a freelance writer, and writes extensively about news, comedy, politics, and the LGBT rights movement on his blog, www.thewhygenerationusa.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffaloguyinNYC.