Companies that support their gay and lesbian employees with health benefits comparable to those of their straight workers may reap greater brand loyalty, a new survey indicates.
According to a Harris Interactive study of 2,242 adults released last month to coincide with the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Denver, 76% of heterosexual adults “strongly agree” that gays should not be discriminated against in the workplace. A slim majority – 55% – backed equal health benefits for all employees regardless of sexual orientation.
“Americans have a problem with [gay] marriage, but not with fairness,” says Wesley Combs, the president of Witeck-Combs Communications, the market research and consultancy that works with Harris on its surveys regarding gays. Even in the 11 states that banned gay marriages, a majority of people still feet gays deserve equal protection under the law, according to Harris.
The results have consequences for marketers because gays are highly aware of companies that support equal rights and reward them handsomely in the marketplace, according to several Harris surveys during the past five years. In the latest, released in February 2005, 70% of gays and lesbians said they would be extremely or very likely to consider brands that are known to provide equal workplace benefits. They survey also found a majority of the gays and lesbians would be more likely to patronize companies that advertised in publications oriented toward them..
While that’s not surprising, what is surprising is that even some conservatives are seeking out companies that are more sympathetic to gay rights, says Howard Buford, president/CEO of Prime Access, a multichannel ad agency that focuses on reaching gay, lesbian, and ethnic audiences. “There are these conservative individuals who have gay sons and lesbian daughters. They want them to share American ideals and American values, and those individuals sometimes unexpectedly are seeking out these companies as well.”
Harris polls such as the most recent one have also found heterosexuals becoming more tolerant of gay people. A 2000 poll found that 48% of all adults had “close” friends or relatives who were gay, compared with 37% in 1998.
Ironically, it might have been the controversy over gay marriages last year that indirectly boosted support for gays. “It made gays and lesbians far more visible; they came out in greater numbers,” Combs says. “The quality that makes it more support a gay person is when you know one.” The latest survey follows other Harris findings that show gays spend more money on travel, health, and fitness than other groups and are tremendous supporters of companies that sponsor gay and lesbian festivals as well as advertise in their publications.
The country’s shifting tolerance toward gays is showing up in the media, with cable television giant Comcast launching Logo, MTV Networks’ new ad-supported network targeted at gays, in a number of its systems. “MTV could not afford to launch the network if it did not have advertising support,” Combs asserts, adding that the challenge is changing the beliefs of some cable operators who feel there are few if any gay customers in their areas.