With LGBT history month coming to a close, what better time to consider whether there has been any progression whatsoever since our review of Pride in 2017. This month endeavours to shine a spotlight on celebrating not only LGBT+, but in a much broader sense, the feeling of otherness, of difference and acknowledgement of personal identity.
2017 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the UK decriminalising male homosexuality in England and Wales, but with the recent persecution of gay men in Russia, African nations encouraging the murder of gay men and an American president who threatens years of progression towards equality, it is apparent that LGBT+ culture continues to be as important as ever. Don’t get me wrong, progress is progress and the increase in representation and support should be applauded but this month is about more than rainbow flags, and acknowledgement of that is necessary before our work here is done.
UK advertising’s LGBT+ network Pride AM recently released a whitepaper following the announcement that not one company from creative or media industries made it onto the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index top 100 employers- poor show guys. The list was intended to highlight organisations that have done great work to help achieve LGBT+ acceptance, and featured companies such as Lloyds, Citi and Newcastle City Council (S/O to the Toon!). Pride AM highlight one hugely compelling point which in itself, makes us question how media companies don’t feature on the Stonewall Index at all... If your brand’s target audience includes younger people of any kind, the case to include LGBT people is not only unavoidable but implausible.
Brands use marketing to demonstrate the role they play, or could play, in consumer’s lives, right? That’s marketing 101… so yes, brands should avoid stretching themselves into places they clearly don’t belong but if you’re looking to appeal to the mass, LGBT+ is a very real audience demographic in modern day society. With that being said, Pride AM also highlighted what they called, the 3 waves of LGBT+ people in marketing communications, with the first beginning in the 1970s, dominated by tokenism and stereotypes, the second characterised by flag waving and the occasional political message, and the third, most recently, representing genuine inclusion and acknowledgement of the broader LGBT+ community. It is this final stage that we are most concerned about. It shows a deep understanding of the need for authentic and implicit LGBT+ culture in marketing, so why is our work in this industry still not managing to hit the nail on the head?
My answer… lack of diversity. I stand by what I said previously that by marketers holding up a mirror to society, the rest of the world will follow, but unfortunately we’re still not quite getting it. LGBT hasn’t had a plus stuck on the end of it for fun but to demonstrate total inclusion. Maybe the industry is seeing more gay culture in marketing but what about the other minorities? Don’t get me wrong, some brands have done amazing work, surprising us, ditching the clichés and showcasing the beautiful differences across groups (check out the Sleek make up advertisement below), but you have to remember that there are a lot of cynics out there, both part of the LGBT+ community and not, who will be quick to jump on us when we fail to fully commit to understanding the needs of the community as a whole.
Pride AM’s whitepaper highlighted this, noting that over half (52%) of Brits believe that brands only pay “lip service” to social diversity and 55% believe that ads give the impression of trying too hard to reflect diversity. Those results are astonishing… how can we possibly have such an in depth understanding of what needs to be done yet still not manage to convince our biggest cynics that we do? Honestly, I think it’s fear. Brands are taking babysteps and again, I have to stress that this is to be applauded, but babysteps are just not enough to demonstrate support as an industry to a demographic who have felt underrepresented for years.
Smirnoff recently launched an advert off the back of its longstanding “We’re Open” campaign, joining forces with the LGBT foundation in a bid to inspire Britain’s nightlife to become more open minded about gender. Their TVC featured members of the trans and non-binary community and guess what, Smirnoff’s Head of Europe stated to Marketing Week that this had not negatively impacted the brand. Consumers are more logical than they are given credit for and encounter LGBT+ people all day every day so why do we feel the need to drip feed them into marketing? Studies as far back as 2014 demonstrated that use of LGBT+ culture in marketing did not alienate heterosexual men (as predicted) and was more attractive to heterosexual women, so why not use LGBT+ culture and why not use all of it?