Brands that act as “corporate allies” to the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities by featuring same-sex couples in ads are likely to see an uplift in purchase and recommendation intent among these audiences, a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has found.

Bradley J. Bond and Justine Rapp Farrell, both from the University of San Diego, examined the behavioural intent of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) consumers, and their heterosexual counterparts, when shown ads featuring same-sex and different-sex couples.

More specifically, their paper – entitled Does depicting gay couples in ads influence behavioral intentions? How appeal for ads with gay models can drive intentions to purchase and recommend – assessed the impact of “congruent” ads that matched up with a participant’s sexuality.

And consumers, they found, “reported stronger advertising appeal following exposure to congruent advertisements, and advertising appeal was associated strongly with purchase intention and likelihood to recommend.”

Brands featuring same-sex couples in ads, the scholars discovered, can also expect to see an outsized impact with lesbian, gay and bisexual consumers.

“These findings illustrate the potential power and influence that being a corporate ally has for reaching LGB consumers,” the study said.

“LGB-inclusive advertising seems to have a strong influence on LGB consumers; a brand actively increasing LGB visibility sends a potent message of inclusion that can affect LGB consumers’ intended behaviors.”

In the study’s first wave, some 108 participants viewed a digital magazine that contained ads featuring same-sex couples, while 112 contributors saw the same content with ads for other-sex couples.

After reviewing the material, the contributors were shown each ad that appeared, and rated it on scales for appeal, fit and trustworthiness, as well as rating their purchase intent and likelihood to recommend the featured brand.

These participants also provided scores for the appeal of the cover and each story in the digital magazine in order to maintain the premise that they were reviewing the entire digital magazine.

A second wave of the study – this time including 139 participants from the group that had taken part in the first round – took place three weeks later.

These respondents reported their purchase intent and likelihood to recommend the brands advertised in the digital magazine, but were not prompted by reminders of the content they had previously been exposed to.

One finding was that “individuals who saw advertisements congruent with their own sexual identity registered higher purchase intentions and likelihood to recommend” a brand.

Another valuable insight from this work was that the “appeal of incongruent advertisements was practically identical for heterosexual and LGB participants,” meaning appeal scores were consistent regardless of sexual orientation.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff