MBPT Spotlight: As Brand Endorsers, LGBT Entertainers Are Doing OK

Caitlyn Jenner's coming out as a transgender woman has spurred lots of media articles and some studies — including a report by Nielsen — about the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender celebrity entertainers can have when promoting marketers' brands.

The goal of marketers is to sell products and it is becoming evident that if celebrity endorsers are well liked and have a large following that can be influenced by their touting a particular product, then it doesn’t really matter what lifestyle they identify with.

Ellen DeGeneres, who came out publicly as a gay woman in 1997 during the fourth season of her TV sitcom Ellen, is now in her 12th season as host of her syndication talk show. According to Nielsen, she has an awareness rating 61% higher and a likeability rating 35% higher than the average talk show host. And nearly 40% of the people who are aware of her view her as a role model.

So, it's no wonder why American Express, CoverGirl and JC Penny have all at one point signed her up to be a spokesperson for their products.

Other popular gay spokespersons for major brands include actor Neil Patrick Harris for Heineken and actor Jim Parsons for Intel computer hardware.

A May study by Nielsen identifying the most liked celebrity endorsers during the first quarter of 2015 found Parsons, star of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, to be the seventh-most-liked celebrity endorser with a 71% likeability rating and a 120 in the Brand Memorability Index. The likeability number means 71% of the people who are aware of him find him likeable. And his Brand Memorability Index score means that people remember him at a 20% higher rate than they do the average celebrity.

Overall in the Nielsen study, Parsons was found to be the eighth-most marketable celebrity, one spot ahead of Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara. He was the only LGBT entertainer among the Top 10.

The Nielsen study points out that in addition to knowing how people feel about the endorsers, it is also important for marketers to make sure they understand how the celebrities can influence them. For example, do they tend to buy the products the celebrities are endorsing?

Fans of Heineken spokesman Neil Patrick Harris are 5% more likely to drink beer and 15% more likely to have consumed imported beer in the past 30 days. On top of that, the highest indexing category among LGBT consumers is liquor.

Parsons’ fans are more tech-oriented and are 23% more likely to own items such as a wearable device, and 20% more likely to own a smart TV. They are also 25% more likely to have shopped online for consumer electronics in the past month, right in the wheelhouse of the Intel brand he is promoting.

Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, who has survived breast cancer, has hosted a WebMD series exploring the future of healthcare. Her fans are 26% more likely to have health insurance, 18% more likely to belong to a health or fitness club and 11% more likely to have bought medicine or prescription drugs online in the past 12 months.

A Nielsen Talent Analytics study found fans of Vergara, who is not part of the LGBT community, are 12% more likely than the general population to purchase shampoo (she is a spokesperson for Head & Shoulders) and 13% more likely to make any hair care purchase.

Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, the customer loyalty and brand engagement consultancy, says more brands are realizing that the LGBT community has an annual spending power of $1 trillion, so being inclusive of that community is smart business.

And he adds that a large percentage of the population that are not members of the LGBT community just want to watch a commercial with someone they are familiar with who is engaging to them and promoting a product they are interested in buying.

As for Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Nielsen report says her awareness among the population grew after her recent TV interview with Diane Sawyer, and so did her likeability.

While prior to the interview, 86% of Americans knew of Bruce Jenner, following the 20/20 interview, Caitlyn Jenner’s awareness was at 93% and her likeability increased to 26% from 24%. Her influence level also grew from 19% to 27%. However, the transition wasn’t totally well received. Her “offensive” rating increased from 16% pre-interview to 26% post-interview.

Jenner’s image grew among millennials but took a hit among adult 55-plus. Following the interview 19% of millennials said they consider her a role model, compared to 9% of adults 55-plus.

Bruce Jenner, of course, can be remembered for his appearance on the Wheaties box after he won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Olympics. And there’s been lots of speculation that Wheaties, with all the publicity surrounding her transition, might decide to put Caitlyn Jenner on a modern-day box.

While that may be far-fetched, a spokesman for Wheaties didn’t totally rule it out, telling Adweek that the company doesn’t discuss publicly who it might select to adorn its cereal boxes.