The J. Walter Thompson study explores US attitudes toward ads featuring transgender people.

A new study from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence and OPAM (Out Professionals in Advertising and Media) examines how Americans feel about ads featuring transgender people.

Some of the better-known recent examples of these ads include the #LoveTravels campaign by Marriott, and the See the Real Me campaign by Clean & Clear, featuring the transgender teenager Jazz Jennings. In August 2015, fashion brand & Other Stories put transgender models at the forefront of their fall campaign, and also employed trans stylists and photographers.

The Gaze & Other Stories

The study used J. Walter Thompson proprietary research tool SONAR™ to survey 500 US consumers age 18 and over, finding that 67% of millennials say they think it’s cool when they see transgender people in ads, and 60% of the overall sample said that brands that show transgender people in ads are being appropriately inclusive.

However, at the same time, 30% of the sample said that TV ads are no place for transgender people, and 57% agreed that brands that show transgender people in ads are just trying to get publicity.

“Transgender-inclusive ads have the ability to build brand equity and break through,” the report finds. “Like other strong stands taken by brands, marketers that include transgender people in their ads are much more likely to be seen as brave, progressive, inclusive and honest.”

The Gaze & Other Stories
The Gaze & Other Stories

The study was released at an event coinciding with International Transgender Day of Visibility. Co-author Mark Truss, global director of brand intelligence at J. Walter Thompson, said it was important for brands to balance inclusivity with empathy.

Looking at approximately 15 ads that have featured transgender people, Truss said, “three-quarters of them were stories … that took people through the transition journey and tried to explain what that life is about. I think that’s for multiple reasons: to try to explain, but also because it doesn’t feel exploitative, it feels like they’re genuinely introducing these people to you.”

Chris Edwards, a transgender author who transitioned in the 90s while working in advertising, also spoke at the event. He agreed that brands needed to tread this line carefully: “You can do it with your message and being consistent in how you act, and how you treat your client base,” he said.

Click here to download the full study free of charge.