The power of promotion: marketing same-sex marriage

marriage equality

Regardless of whether you support same-sex marriage or not, have you wondered how the movement went from losing 30 state-wide votes by 2009 to winning approval in 37 states and a Supreme court ruling by 2015? It really was a stunning reversal for the movement.

This article from Stanford Social Innovation Research gives some of the credit to solid, coordinated market research and promotion work across the country.

Starting in 2004, in response to multiple states banning same-sex marriage, advocates began framing the issue as equal access to basic rights such as hospital visitation, child custody, and inheritance. They advanced this argument in advertising and PR activities across the nation.

Polling showed that audiences were receptive to this message, but not swayed in how they voted on the issue. After losing a crucial vote in California in 2009, advocates knew they needed to switch tactics.

To their ongoing quantitative polling they added more qualitative research efforts such as focus groups. The new research lead to the realization that an emotional message would sway swing voters more than a rights-based message. Advocates field tested the new message and found it worked, including leading to voters in Maine approving same-sex marriage. From there, the movement progressed rapidly to multiple wins at the state and federal level.

I believe that fairness is innate for us social animals, and so I thought that the implicit fairness argument of the basic rights approach would work. I think this case study shows that love is a more persuasive emotion than fairness.

The type and scale of messaging conducted for same-sex marriage was likely expensive and funded by donors committed to the cause. As a marketer in the public and social sectors, it’s likely that you don’t have the resources to conduct this level of research and testing. That shouldn’t stop you from using free survey tools, such as Survey Monkey, and simple interviews with clients and funders to guide your messaging. The conclusion you reach, and the results that you achieve, may surprise you.

Afterthought #1: Read about the brand strength survey that I conducted using Survey Monkey.

Afterthought #2: Some are wondering if the recent Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando will mobilize the LGBT community to advocate as effectively for gun control as they did for marriage equality.


(Image courtesy of Flickr)

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