With the increase of inclusivenessin the society, the perspective towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) group has changed a lot in the past few decades. Although it was once considered as a mental health issue, people with heterosexual orientation have now been convincedof no discrimination against the ones who are non-heterosexually oriented. According to Ngun and Vilain (2014), sexual orientation is influenced by genetic composition, and formed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Research also indicates that sexual orientation can be inherited from one’s family, suggesting that homosexual individuals tend to have greater number of homosexual relatives than heterosexual people (Bailey, & Pillard, 1991). Therefore, it is important to recognize the LGBT group as a natural part of the society and treat them equally as others.
Many businesses have also started to recognize the importance of this minority group. According to a survey conducted by ZANK – an online service platform for the LGBT group (2016), in industries such as catering, hotel, cosmetics and travelling businesses, the demands and consumption power of LGBT group are 5 to 6 times higher than those of heterosexual individuals. Also, a company with diverse employees and consumers tends to have better external image and more creative working environment (Cunningham, & Melton, 2014). In order to attract these consumers, many companies like Converse, Burger King, and Adidas have started to launch LGBT marketing strategies. LGBT marketing typically includes companies’ investment to products that target the sexual minority population, and advertisements that explicitly show support and respect for the rights of those individuals, and some companies also donate part of their profits to needed people in the LGBT group. Since the rainbow is used as a symbol to represent the LGBT community, companies usually add this component in their products, and so the LGBT marketing is also called “Rainbow Marketing”.
It has been suggested that this marketing strategy could shape the corporate image to be more inclusive and diverse, which in turn effectively improve sales volume (Cunningham, & Melton, 2014). With such effectiveness, it is surprising to see that this marketing strategy has been rarely used in China.
While many countries have done relatively well in terms of advocating and promoting the equality for LGBT individuals, the attitudes towards this minority group haven’t changed much in China. According to a survey conducted by the United Nations, only 8.1% of family members of the Chinese LGBT population can accept their sexual orientation (United Nations Development Programme, 2016). Even for highly educated people like college teachers, the acceptance rate is only 33%. Therefore, almost 55% of non-heterosexual individuals in China choose not to disclose their identities. The choice of hiding from others has become a strategy to protect themselves.
Based on all the information above, I propose two questions: Why does LGBT advertising have such low prevalence rate in China? What is the acceptance rate for Chinese consumers towards LGBT advertising?
Firstly, I analyzed the current situation of LGBT advertisement in the Chinese market, before designing a questionnaire to assess Chinese people’s opinions towards LGBT advertising. Moreover, the questionnaire consisted of two parts, the first of which asked about participants’ demographic information, and the second accesses individuals’ acceptance level of this advertising strategy and their tendency to purchase LGBT related products.
Part 1: Market exploration
While many international corporations like Burger King and Adidas have publicly stated and promoted their supportive attitudes towards sexual minority groups in other countries, and produced rainbow products, they generally do not sell these products in China. For example, to celebrate gay pride in the United States, the Burger King company launched a product called “Rainbow Whopper” in 2014 (whopper is the signature hamburger in Burger King). This product was wrapped with rainbow paper and was labeled with “we are all the same inside” inside the paper. After consumers open the wrapping paper, they can see the slogan, and the hamburger is not different from the regular Whoppers. This product was available in regular Burger King restaurants in the US in 2014, but has never appeared in the Chinese market. Through the research, we found that only Apple and Converse are selling their rainbow products in the Chinese market, but the slogans for these products are rather implicit compared to in other countries. For example, Apple explicitly claimed that they would give the rainbow watch band for free to employees who participated in pride festival in San Francisco and would donate part of their revenue to LGBT advocacy group. However, they only mentioned “a big party” in their Chinese advertisement. Similarly, while explicitly demonstrating support for sexual minority group in the US, Converse did not even suggests their rainbow products are designed to demonstrate their support to LGBT groups in the Chinese market.
Part 2: Questionnaire
1) General information
85 people participatedin this study, with different age groups and cities in China. There are 68% heterosexual participants, and 32% non-heterosexual ones.
Most of the participants are relatively young, with only 23% who are over 30 years old; 10% are under 18 years old, 67% are between 20 and 30. There are approximately 30% respondents who have not finished university or college and 42% participants who have experiences living in foreign countries.
2) General tendency
In general, 50% participants are willing to buy rainbow products when they are of the same price or 10% higher than other products.
After analyzing the data, we can identify two factors that influence people’s attitudes towards the LGBT population.
1) Long-term overseas experience
After analyzing the results, the attitudes of people who have overseas experiences are very different from people without such experiences. Among those who lived in foreign countries before, there are 64% who are willing to buy rainbow products, whereas only 18% of those without oversee experiences are willing to buy such kind of products. Especially when rainbow products are 10% more expensive than the price of other products, 63% of people who have oversee experiences are willing to buy them, but only 18% withoutoversee experiences are willing to buy them.
2) Sexual Orientation
According to our survey data, when the price rises for about 10%, 37.25% of correspondents from the heterosexual group are willing to purchase the product. On the other hand, the number of people who are willing to buy the product accounts for 74.39% in the non-heterosexual group, more than twice as high compared to the heterosexual group.
In general, we found the concept of rainbow marketing was not endorsed by the majority of participants in our study. This might be attributed to some traditional beliefs in Chinese culture. Chinese people put much emphasis on the importance of one’s ability to have off-springs. Since the LGBT group cannot have off-springs through natural reproduction, it is hard for them to be accepted by their families and friends (Burki, 2017). In addition, people would be regarded as disrespectful for their parents if they do not have off-springs. Thus, some companies choose not to promote LGBT marketing in China in order to avoid unnecessary disputes and loss of customers.
Fortunately, we are currently witnessing gradual changes in people’s values and beliefs. With the development of modern society and the process of globalization, many Chinese people are influenced by the values in western cultures. As this survey indicates, people who have lived in foreign countries are more likely to endorse and support the inclusion of LGBT group. This proves that the stereotypes towards non-heterosexual individuals can be minimized by the impact of others. Meanwhile, as indicated by this survey, half of the participants demonstrate support towards rainbow marketing, and are also interested in attending parties with rainbow themes.
Ngun, T., & Vilain, E. (2014). The biological basis of human sexual orientation: Is there a role for epigenetics? (pp. 167-184). SAN DIEGO: ELSEVIER ACADEMIC PRESS INC. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-800222-3.00008-5
Bailey, J. M., & Pillard, R. C. (1991). A genetic study of male sexual orientation.Archives of General Psychiatry,48(12), 1089-1096. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1991.01810360053008
Burki, T. (2017). Health and rights challenges for china's LGBT community.Lancet, the,389(10076), 1286-1286. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30837-1
Cunningham, G. B., & Melton, E. N. (2014). Signals and cues: LGBT inclusive advertising and consumer attraction.Sport Marketing Quarterly,23(1), 37.
Santos, M. D. (2016). Marketing to LGBT consumers: Overcoming exclusion in pursuit of the "pink rand.". Cape Town: SyndiGate Media Inc.
United Nations Development Programme. (2016). Being LGBTI in China – A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.
About the Author
Yunzhu Peng is a graduate of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Her research interest is largely related to factors that contribute in shaping consumer behavior. She is very keen in promoting social equality and is against discrimination to minorities in the society. She is currently working as a Behavioral Interventionist for children with autism.