More Than A Trend: Johnny Mendez, McCann Worldgroup LATAM & Caribbean

We insist that in order to seriously address LGBT+ topics, we must work in cross direction with the brand strategy, and to keep the approach all throughout the year.

Johnny Méndez G.
Corporate Comunication Manager McCann Worldgroup Latin America & Caribbean McCann Worldgroup Latin America & Caribbean

What is your opinion on the current state of LGBTQ+ representation in the advertising industry?

There are two sides from which to understand the LGBTQ+ Community in the advertising industry:  the first has to do with the structure of agency teams and the second focuses on brand communications.

On the issue of agency teams, my experience so far has shown me that there are indeed diverse and gay friendly teams in the industry, nevertheless. There is still much to be done to cultivate an atmosphere of respect, where each one in our work environment has the possibility of self-determination, depending on how each one defines himself or herself. It is crucial to be part of a work-space where you can express yourself fully around your leaders and colleagues. For me, work environment relations must grow out of respect and protection of human dignity of each person, treating this as a value in the sphere of human rights.

It is not only the advertisement industry that is facing challenges regarding the legal framework of the country they are located, specifically on laws such as gender identity or equal marriage.

On the other hand, on the issue of brand communication, namely the creative product which mobilizes the industry, the representativeness of the LGBT+ Community is related mainly to three factors: one relates to the brand, where the strategy and purpose brand potentially joins a supportive stance to sexual diversity. The second factor has to do with the social development with regards to the status of Human Rights in the location where the brand operates and develops. Finally, the agency has a challenge to position its brand by means of disruptive yet creative solutions, that seek to generate a popular culture with knowledge of the audience of clients that is geared to promote positive stereotype about the LGBT+ community.

In McCann Worldgroup Latin America and Caribbean, we have worked hard to cultivate a culture where diversity in our teams drives to a product that is more creative, thereby reflecting the talents of our work environment, where everyone has  the possibility to develop as a person and as a professional, in a workplace free of discrimination, where respect for the person comes first.

Do you think LGBTQ marketing is seen as a trend or a real need for businesses?

According to the last McCann Truth Central study, the “Truth About Diversity”, in different countries of Latin America such as Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, the word of diversity is associated with the LGBT+ community. Furthermore, in these vey countries, more than 80% of the society claims that brands and companies have the possibility to change the world positively. These two factors are positive and show that diversity is understood as a broader concept that includes but yet goes beyond specific LGBT+ rights.

In the region, approximately 29 millions of people integrate the LGBT+ community, and it is estimated that those people generate a gross income of 230 billions of dollars to the region[1].

If we take this data, not only we can refer to a trend but to a potential business community with interests and motivations that expect brands to take actions, and to commit to faithful them, too. This is more than a trend, is a growing opportunity!

How can brands be more authentic in the way they engage the LGBTQ community?

There is not a recipe available for this. Society in general is more aware and has more access to information. The LGBT+ community, knows their rights like any other member of society, over their purchasing decision-making power, their impact on social networks, and their impact on economy, so brands have to communicate coherently with these actions and expectations, and bring them on board to their strategy and teams. This has to be accompanied by a coherent internal communication, in the way  their managers and spokespeople behave. There´s nothing worse than a brand that doesn’t´ build a bridge of dialogue between the message or the contribution that is being put out there, directly linked to the company’s strategy and purpose, and the audience's interests with which it wants to connect. There is a risk in that this communication doesn’t always work, thus making the brand to be targeted as merely opportunist or profit-driven.

Do brands risk damaging their perception in the eyes of the community if they don’t show support?

Having a positive and outward looking attitude towards challenges in society will always bring you fans, loyal customers, but also potential opponents. The best advise I can give from my experience is to identify the brand with a purpose, and to be capable of communicating this to your audience. This will set out you a strategy though a connecting thread for your framework of action.

Outside of advertising/marketing where can brands look for inspiration on how to embrace the LGBTQ+ community?

Naturally, topics such as diversity, inclusion or sustainability that are so closely related, are areas of business management that are constantly evolving. Practices that we considered common a couple of years ago, are ones we would find very hard to accept today. Working in partnership and in a multidisciplinary environment, gives us an advantage when dealing with complex challenges such as LGBT+. ONGs like Human Rights Campaign, campaigns for multilaterals like the United Nations Human Rights: Free & Equal, business and trade associations with Committees of diversity and inclusion like World Business Council for Sustainable Development, or the UN Global Compact, are all sources available for us to consult and feed from, to enhance our contents, and to avoid falling into negative stereotypes. This broader approach to the challenges of LGBT+ allows us to have a positive impact on the popular culture with messages that reinforces collective development beyond our specific company.

Where is the line between inclusion and "rainbow-washing" for a communication agency running a LGBTQ+ campaign for one of its clients?

A common practice for the rainbow washing is to make the LGBT+ community visible during the PRIDE Month in June. We insist that in order to seriously address LGBT+ topics, we must work in cross direction with the brand strategy, and to keep the approach all throughout the year. Diversity must be proportionally integrated in the way our communication and reflection of how society is composed.

Standardization and exhibition of real life with its advantages and disadvantages of the LGBT+ community in the brand communication, generates positive messages and integrates the everyday life of popular culture. The caricaturization can always bring negative consequences and rejection to the brand, of which we are very much aware.

Are there any brands that celebrated Pride Month well in your opinion?

Latam Airlines has a long-standing strategy to integrate diverse awareness-raising actions to remove prejudices with travelling experience for their passengers for this year.

Awareness, display and standardization of brand communication are all, in my opinion, the best way to address the pride month for a brand.