Brands need to do more to get LGBT+ representation right
Sensitive navigation and new interpretations of gender boundaries are becoming increasingly important, as examples emerge where the lack of authenticity whilst trying to promote diversity could seriously damage a brand and those they are trying to represent. This article takes a look at the representation of the LGBT+ community in brand communications and dissects a couple of examples of brands that have either succeeded or failed in positive engagement.
Recent research, by UM Research, has revealed that the LGBT+ community is a much bigger percentage of the UK population than the 2% previously estimated by the Office of National Statistics in 2016. In fact, UM’s research shows that 26% of the population identify as something other than ‘completely heterosexual’, which equates to a market of over 14 million people.
The research uses the Kinsey Scale or a heterosexual–homosexual rating scale to describe a person’s sexual orientation, which takes a non-binary view on sexuality.
There are a host of brands showing their support for the community, but UM’s research also showed that there is still not enough being done by brands in their communications to celebrate equality and diversity;
- 66% agree: There aren’t enough LGBT+ people shown in ad campaigns
- 52% agree: The LGBT+ community is “invisible” in advertising
Brands that engage with important issues through purpose-driven advertising are more likely to build strong connections, especially with young consumers. But it is not enough to simply pay lip service. Authenticity is key. And brands must be careful not to broadcast a misrepresentation of the community or reinforce harmful negative stereotypes.
Research conducted by Channel 4’s ‘4 Sales’ division showed that 55% of their respondents believe that brands should be a force for good in the world, rather than just selling products and services. Furthermore, 57% of young people believe brands should use their advertising to raise awareness of social or ethical issues, and 60% of consumers overall say any brand can start a conversation about important issues.
- 54% agree: I might have come out sooner if brands had shown LGBT+ people like me when I was growing up
As different brands start to embrace diversity in their communications, we can start to see how some are able to do so more authentically than others. It’s not because of the brand itself or the product they are advertising, rather the way in which they execute the ideas. Below are a couple of examples of this, along with some snippets of commentary from ‘Pride Advertising and Marketing’ (http://www.prideam.org/home/2018/7/5/prideam-creative-review) :
The first example comes from Rowse Honey and by all accounts does a great job of coming across as both authentic and representative. It’s from a campaign called ‘Three bears’ created by BMB. The clip below is the first in a series of episodes in which three guys humorously take us through their porridge preparation methods.
‘Three Bears campaign is full of convincing nuances’.
‘This is because the cast were given free reign with the script, allowing the three gay Bear actors to imbue this series of ads with natural, humorous detail.’
‘There’s a body type depicted here that’s rarely represented in mainstream media, and it’s great to see our people represented in a realistic way.’
The next example comes from Pay Pal and sees two females arguing over the bill at the end of their date. Granted it is an awkward moment, but that doesn’t mean the ad had to be.
‘There’s some awkward hand-holding. And a furtive kiss obscured by other objects – and then at the end they talk about meeting ‘new friends.’
‘The way the LGBT+ aspect has been shoehorned into the scenario doesn’t really work.’
‘It’s clear that the Paypal ad lacks the discerning little details that make the Rowse Honey campaign shine.’
Advertisers and the media have a fundamental part to play in defining identity norms and stereotypes. Phil Clements, member and spokesperson for PrideAM neatly rounds up his article with some advice for brands looking to do so:
- ‘Your choice of LGBT+ representation and the brand message must be a cohesive whole, or it will feel like a trendy attempt to exploit a marginalised people.’
- ‘The best way to ensure authenticity is to have LGBT+ people working on the campaign – and that means a brand must practice what they preach. Authenticity is needed not just on our screens, in our posters and print ads, but in our offices and at our desks.’
I applaud brands that try to promote messages of diversity and think that more and more of them will start to spark or join wider societal conversations. Take Nike’s recent Colin Kaepernick campaign for instance. Backing a man who refuses to stand for the national anthem is a very bold move. And whether you agree with it or not, the ad itself perfectly captures the authenticity needed when joining these conversations.
Whilst it may seem that more diversity in communications can only be a good thing, brands need to be extremely careful that they are being authentic in what they are doing. Failure to do so leads to false representation, perpetuating negatives steretotypes and can be far more damaging than good.