How Conscious Brands Can Help The LGBTQ+ Community

By Hazel Alfonso, Account Manager at Channel Factory

Like many people within the LGBTQ+ community, I found it very hard to fully understand my true identity growing up. It took years of self-reflection and research as well as seeing others brave enough to be who they are before I felt it was okay to be exactly as I am. I was unsure if I could turn to my family and friends for fear that they wouldn’t understand. I turned to user-generated content on websites and apps such as YouTube which provide an outlet and voice to people within the LGBTQ+ community to share their stories and experiences, over time decreasing the stigma of being ‘other’ and providing inspiration to many people including myself to be proud and celebrate ourselves as we are.

In the past few years, brands have started to embrace the LGBTQ+ community, often changing their logos to feature rainbow colours during Pride months to show their support. Having worked in the media ecosystem for a couple of years, I noticed that there were still a few things that needed to change for brands to show their support further.

One example is the various safeguards put in place during campaign setup in order to ensure brand safety and suitability for digital ads are met. This includes negatively targeting keywords and phrases deemed unsuitable. While this is good practice, brands might consciously or unconsciously be using biased and bigoted blocklists in their campaigns resulting in negative repercussions – unfairly demonetizing LGBTQ+ creators and content with LGBTQ+ themes.


In fact, a recent study released by CHEQ, an ad fraud, brand safety and viewability provider, showed that popular LGBTQ+ publisher titles, like Attitude and PinkNews, have had as much as 73% of their content flagged as brand unsafe.

“On the web, we lose about 50% of ad sales,” admits Benjamin Cohen, who has served as chief executive and editor of the PinkNews for 15 years. It gets worse. Online news site Gay Star News went bankrupt at the end of July 2019 (73% of safe stories on Gay Star News were incorrectly flagged as unsafe in Cheq’s analysis).

This type of content can often get bucketed together and flagged as unsafe when advertisers use blanket blocklists as a means to determine what is brand-safe content and what is not, and to ensure their campaigns do not run against content deemed unsafe. This includes content from videos and channels to URLs and keywords.

The keywords in question, though, often include terms like ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transsexual’ and ‘drag queen’, which can systematically exclude the majority of LGBTQ+ content regardless of context or connotation. The problem here is that while a brand may think their campaign is not running alongside this content in a negative context, they are also missing a huge potential audience base that has a positive connotation. What’s more, taking this blanket approach to block content is out of sync with reality when you consider that only two-thirds of Gen Z identifies as heterosexual.

Brand Safety & Suitability – Tools for Change?

When executed with conscious, value-driven intention, brand safety and brand suitability controls can be tools to drive social good. They have the power to channel advertising dollars to content and creators who represent the very best of an inclusive and diverse society. And this is something consumers are looking for as well. In a recent study we conducted, 69% of consumers said they’d prefer to buy from brands committed to socially conscious causes, including inclusion and diversity.

However, social good can be hindered by the use of discriminatory blocklists. We’ve written extensively about the dangers of overly restrictive blocklists as well as their impact on publishers. The issue here though isn’t just about accidentally blocking content, but also consciously overlooking blatantly discriminatory keywords.

Brands are compensating for problematic blocklists by turning to inclusion lists to drive more effective brand safety and brand suitability. Inclusion lists are when brands pre-select the channels and videos they want their campaigns to run on, rather than relying on Google’s own topic and interest-driven targeting.

When these pre-selected lists of sites, channels, and videos are used, in conjunction with thoughtful blocklists, brands can get very specific about the types of content they run on. When selecting content to include, the question can then be asked – is the content inclusive and diverse?

Agencies like Mindshare USA have developed a LGBT+ private marketplace (PMP) to address the issue raised by LGBTQ+ blocklists, which has been picked up by its UK counterpart. The PMP aggregates publishers into one negotiated inclusion list so that brands support LGBTQ+ specific publications as well as the LGBTQ+ content at broader publications.

Steps Brands Can Take 

82% of consumers say that platforms like YouTube help them learn about other lifestyles, cultures and points of view. Here are some actionable steps brands can embrace the reasons why consumers come to YouTube as well as to address potential bigotry and bias in their brand safety and brand suitability controls.

  1. Audit Your Blocklists: review the keywords you or your partners are employing in blocklists across all marketing channels. Search for any of the following and, if any appear in your blocklist, a deeper review is probably well overdue: “lgbtq+” (and all its variations), “gay”, “trans”, “lesbian”, “bisexual”, “pride” etc.
  2. Think About Languages: Each language has its own nuance and discriminatory variations, so don’t just look for literal translations of English keywords. Channel Factory’s inclusion and exclusion capabilities span 39+ languages and we use native speakers to review our lists properly.
  3. Stay Relevant: the LGBTQ+ landscape is constantly shifting. Any brand safety and suitability strategy should adapt to the times and update keywords with conscious bias accordingly.
  4. Make Your Inclusion Lists Inclusive: the clue’s in the word itself. Hiring practices shouldn’t be the only time your brand considers inclusion and diversity. Media choices matter. Check out our list of YouTube Channels with LGBTQ+ themes below as a starting point.
  5. Involve Your Employees: soliciting involvement from people passionate about LGBTQ+ issues is key. Channel Factory has a thriving LGBTQ+ committee that is actively involved in the shaping of company policy. This includes how our technology platform identifies and rates content we recommend to brands.

Ad dollars are a potent sign of support by brands of inclusive and diverse voices across marginalized groups, but the journey begins with a process of brand introspection and thorough self-appraisal. Conscious decisions about what kind of values a brand wants to embody can be turned into powerful media strategies which reflect those values. Brands need to acknowledge that there is a problem before they can work on the solution.

The good news is that there are simple steps and fixes we can take as an industry to drive more conscious, and conscientious, advertising to help brands, support DEI initiatives, and hold advertisers accountable. In the meantime, here is a sample list of YouTube channels that celebrate LGBTQ+ themes – consider these when you are building your next YouTube campaign.

LGBTQ+ Inclusion Channels