What is your opinion on the current state of LGBTQ+ representation in the advertising industry?
It’s getting there.
But, to be honest, as a cis white gay man I feel like I have way more privileges than most. Just like everywhere else, it feels people are ok with you being gay if you’re gender conforming, especially if you are a man without what are considered “feminine qualities.” And this is just plain wrong.
Do you think LGBTQ marketing is seen as a trend or a real need for businesses?
Companies have recognized the value of the LGBTQ+ customers and their purchasing power – and we’re past beyond the point in which creatives are adding a gay couple to a TV so that they can feel edgy and, maybe, get some buzz. It is what it is.
The entertainment industry is helping shape that: TV shows on Netflix, for example, feature queer characters just because queer people exist in society. It’s a major step considering Ellen came out in 1997, 20+ years ago.
Though sometimes it feels like brands are still trying to see it as a trend – and they end up trying to do stuff that would be controvert maybe 5 years ago. And then they fail miserably. Another big issue is to focus on restrictive stereotypes, either the flamboyant gay guy or the straight acting gay. Or you have self-proclaimed queer allies releasing a music video, for example, in which a straight white female is the protagonist of the story (?), parading among LGBTQ+ characters that live happily marginalized in a trailer park. It doesn’t feel authentic.
How can brands be more authentic in the way they engage the LGBTQ community?
They need to understand that the support should not end on June 30th. The very next day, flags are down, those rainbow stickers on the store fronts are gone. They come as quickly as they go. It’s not enough just to buy a float and get great moments that can be advertised while you have your LGBTQ+ employees marching.
I think it’s actually better not to be represented than it is to be misrepresented.
If you’re willing to do it, do it. Don’t have the audience questioning that pair of young beautiful – often shirtless – men having drinks together in what seems to be a resort: make them a couple. And give them shirts. They are allowed to own one or two.
A great way to start is to start from resourcing. If you’re going to be targeting or representing the LGBTQ+ community, make sure you have LGBTQ+ creatives involved. If that’s not an option, make sure to run the creative by your LGBTQ+ staff later. We have a very active LGBTQ+ affinity group here at Huge, for example. That will, at the least, guarantee you’re not being homophobic.
Do brands risk damaging their perception in the eyes of the community if they don’t show support?
Yes. There’s no room for bigotry anymore.
We’ve seen examples of consumers suggesting boycotting to brands when they do show support and, usually, they fail.
It’s not exactly entertainment, but advertising is part of a system which key when it comes to changing attitude, and consumers – especially young ones – do want to see a change in how the LGBTQ+ community is treated.
Big brands have even more power to make a stand.
And so, they should.
Outside of advertising/marketing where can brands look for inspiration on how to embrace the LGBTQ+ community?
In the community itself.
It sounds kind of obvious, right? But change will come faster if you’re not mirroring what other brands are doing or have done – because then you’d just be following.
If you look at the LGBTQ+ community, odds are you’re gonna be leading that change.
Plus, we’re fun. And cute. And magical.
Where is the line between inclusion and "rainbow-washing" for a communication agency running a LGBTQ+ campaign for one of its clients?
Hypocrisy is fairly easy to detect. And, with social media, while brands have money to put behind videos and activation stunts, sometimes a comment calling out their lack of commitment or hypocrisy gains traction and totally obliterates the “efforts”.
If you’re not going to be a true ally, don’t. And just adding the rainbow to your logo on pride month is never going to be enough.
A few months ago, I was casting for a TV commercial featuring a range of different families. We were trying to be as diverse as possible and, when it came to casting a same-sex couple with kids, one of the things I kept in mind was not to cast the all-white male gay couple that adopted African American kids. Even though there would be nothing wrong with that family – I didn’t think it was right to reinforce the stereotype of the white male savior.
We have responsibilities. And we need to be aware of that. And, if possible, be vocal about that. Let people know why we’re making those choices so they don’t make the same mistakes in the future. And being totally open about the issues with the clients help them.
Just last week there was a note about an agency and a client ending a long-lasting relationship because the client said “at [brand], we don’t go gay” on a call. If their support is going to be meaningful, that’s the level of commitment they should have.
As we reach the end of Pride Month, are there any brands that celebrated it well in your opinion?
I don’t think anything would top the guy wearing the “Free Dad Hugs” at the Pittsburgh Pride Parade this year. It was not sponsored by a brand. But it was simple, it was beautiful and it was true AF. I always get teary eyes.
I don’t recall anything big like last year’s 5 Gum “Live True To Yourself”, which took Martin to his first pride parade at the age of 85.
• The London Zoo had their gay penguin couple celebrating pride with a small banner and that was epic.
• NBC New York had a simple Instagram post explaining all the flags people would be seeing around – not only the rainbow one.