Feature

The 3 pitfalls of LGBTQ+ marketing: only representing a fraction of the community

In the final segment of The Drum’s three-part series about the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to LGBTQ+ marketing and how to avoid them, we explore how brands can greater represent and support the whole of the LGBTQ+ community.

Last week marked 50 years since the Stonewall Uprising; a riot that sparked a global push for LGBTQ+ rights. Although progress has been considerable in the past half century, the community is still hugely underrepresented, particularly for transgender and non-binary people.

While 64% of adults think it’s positive for the LGBTQ+ community to be visible in advertisements, a considerable 72% of the LGBTQ+ community think the way they are presented in advertising is tokenistic,according to recent research commissioned by the Gay Times and Karmarama.

Brands can fall foul of placing a token gay couple in their ad and thinking that’s ticked the box for LGBTQ+ representation, job well done. However, the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t be included as a token gesture, represented by a stereotypical gay couple.

So, where are brands going wrong?

What does LGBTQ+ represent?

The LGBTQ+ initialism has evolved since LGB – lesbian, gay and bisexual – was first used in the 80s. Since then, it has grown to include transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual, and polysexual.

And within this expanding acronym of identities, the community is growing. Significantly fewer 18-24-year-olds identify as completely heterosexual (36%) than the generation before, while 48% identify as something in between.

Asad Dhunna, director of communications for Pride in London and founder of the consultancy The Unmistakables says: “The community is hugely diverse. The issue facing a gay male Muslim is very different from the issues facing a white bisexual woman.”

Joseph Galliano, founder of Queer Britain, the UK’s national LGBTQ+ museum, adds: “People need to recognise that there aren’t barriers around people. That identity isn’t only defined in one way. So, I’m not just gay man, I’m a brother, and a son, and a colleague and a friend.”

Why are brands inclined to show more white, gay couples?

Although LGBTQ+ representation in advertising is increasing, there is a greater window provided for white, gay males, than to the rest of the community.

This reality means the more marginalised members of the community, who need more visibility and awareness, often go unnoticed.

“The way brands tend to go is the G, because it’s easier to understand. There might be more gay men within advertising or within marketing that can have the conversation and lead the cultural side of things,” says Dhunna.

When Channel 4 called for better representation of the LGBTQ+ community in TV advertising earlier this month, focus groups consulted as part of a study it conducted with YouGov found that LGBTQ+ representation in adverts tended to exclude bisexual and transgender people.

The study also found just 3% of surveyed adverts featured members of the LGBTQ+ community – even though they make up 6% of the population.

Christopher Kenna, chief exec of Brand Advance questioned that while many brands have produced outstanding campaigns this year: "is it really correct to label these great campaigns as LGBT or at worst LGBTQ+ when there are so many identities not represented within these ads?"

He argues the same could be said for the word BAME - a UK coined phrase often used to describe anyone who does not identify as white British/Irish.

"But it covers so many communities that I sometimes struggle to stick myself within this lazy categorisation," he explains.

Be conscious and aware of your own biases

The former group brand director of insurance giant Aviva, Jan Gooding, was named chairman of the LGBT charity Stonewall in 2014.

“When you represent the LGBTQ+ community, you must ask yourself, do you represent them well and properly?” advises Gooding. “When you think about representation, are you always only ever showing white, gay men?”

The marketer says that over the course of any campaign or any communication, brands must be conscious and aware of their own biases. “Have you thought about the fact there are many other different forms of sexual orientation and gender identity?” she implores. “Of all the letters, the T part is the one that brands, organisations and communities find the most challenging.”

Indeed, if the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) had considered the consequences of its actions when it decided to cut ties with the transgender model and activist, Munroe Bergdorf, it would have seen the hypocrisy of calling itself a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

After announcing Bergdorf would be the fact of a three-month LGBTQ+ campaign, the children's charity was inundated with transphobic messaging that urged it to cut ties with her. The campaign was led by anti-trans activist Janice Turner, who questioned: "why a children's safeguarding charity has hired a porn model as a Childline ambassador?" Turner also hinted that hiring Bergdorf would lead to stakeholders cancelling their direct debits. Such a response led the NSPCC to publically cut ties with Bergdorf, without even informing the activist herself. Such action has caused a backlash against the charity, with many asking it to remove the Pride flag it has used across all its social media feeds. In the week following Bergdorf's removal, it experienced 183 cancelled donations, and although the charity says it does not know how many cancellations were in connection to the furore, it was 5% higher than a comparable May week.

Gooding says this is a clear example of a brand claiming to actively support the LGBTQ+ community, but then failing to stand up for those it works with.

“It’s literally beggar’s belief that the NPSCC think they can fly the rainbow flag when they just unceremoniously dumped one of the communities iconic and really courageous role models for the trans community,” remarks Gooding.

“Probably, their own trans staff are not out and not helping them and if you have strong networks in your organisations and if you thought about the policies of your staff.”

Even the most informed can get it wrong

In 2017, Pride in London was criticised when it launched its Love Happens Here posters that promoted the capital's parade.

The campaign used messages from members of the LGBTQ+ community and “straight people,” which were then made into posters by artists.

The campaign came under fire for the content of some of the messages, which were accused of undermining the individuality, importance and dignity of the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride in London also received complaints that the campaign concentrated too much on the gay and lesbian members of the LBTQT+ community, with not one mention of bisexuals, with caused some to accuse it of ‘biphobia.’

“We know we don’t always get it right. In 2017, we didn’t get that right,” admits Dhunna. “We reflected on it, we said we’ve got to do better.”

Pride in London then conducted research to look at how it would reflect the whole of society, to ensure it didn’t miss a step again.

It then applied this research to its 2018, #PrideMatters, which questioned the different ways Pride matters to the LGBTQ+ community.

“From the research, we saw that Pride means different things to different people. So, to a trans person, Pride is more of a protest. And we need to allow space for that,” says Dhunna.

Who’s in front and behind the camera?

Failure to represent the LGBTQ+ in front of the camera can largely be down to a failure to represent them behind it.

“Ask the question, who is behind the camera as well as who is in front,” says Galliano. “So, you don’t just end up doing a tick box exercise, where you put all kinds of faces in front of the camera.”

Bad campaigns occur when the voice behind them lacks authenticity and understanding. Galliano advises that brands should make sure that they communicate with the community and ask them how they want to be involved and how they should be represented.

“Don’t think ‘who should we speak to?’ question which voices aren’t being heard,” he advises.

When Smirnoff launched its ‘Labels are for bottles, not people’ campaign, its head Sam Salameh said it could have gone really wrong if it hadn’t consulted the LGBTQ+ community and members of its LGBTQ+ staff.

“When we created the Labels are for bottles’ campaign, if I’m being honest if we used the first found of work, we could have got it really wrong,” admits Salameh.

“We consulted the LGBT foundation and people from the community and spoke a lot around the Q+,” he recalls. “We didn’t have any real understanding. Once we showed them the idea and concept, the feedback was helpful in ensuring we didn’t get it wrong and that we represented the whole community.”

Have a LGBTQ+ diverse team

When discussing why more white gay men appear in ads than any other member of the community, Dhunna explains that it could be down to more “gay men within advertising that can have the conversations.”

The sad truth is, societies understanding and acceptance of other members of the community is further behind, which has a knock-on effect on those confident enough to come out to their colleagues and employees.

According to research conducted by Pride in London, almost half (46%) of members of the LGBT+ community from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities (BAME) aren’t out to their employers versus over a third (36%) of the white LGBT+ population.

Asexual’s are heavily underrepresented in advertising. “There was a lesbian couple in my class. Gay was fine. So why was my being different not fine?” questioned an asexual member of staff at the law firm CMS’s, who wishes to remain anonymous.

CMS was the official sponsor to Pride in 2017, a move that encouraged this individual to come out as asexual.

“I asked if bringing asexual flag is okay,” they recall of the march. The strength of the individual’s actions opened CMS’s eyes, who then asked him to join a photoshoot for Pride in London 2018, to show the world that Asexual’s exist and are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

The action of CMS in helping to promote a story from the LGBTQ community in the hope it would bring some peace to others perfectly demonstrates how important it is to communication with the individual experiences of staff members.

Fly the flags

Although it is a hard task to ensure the whole of the LGBTQ+ community feels represented, brands can learn a lot if they look to the range of flags beyond the original rainbow.

The LGBTQ+ community expresses themselves most vibrantly during Pride and over the years various flags have been designed so they can visibly celebrate the diversity of all the sexualities and gender identities.

Beyond the original rainbow - which is the collective symbol for the entire LGBTQ+ community - there are flags that celebrate bisexuals, trans people, progress, lesbians, pansexuals, asexuals, polysexuals, polyamorous people, non-binary, genderqueer and genderfluid; all of which are a variation on the original flag, but carry identifiable aspects that speak to the individuals in the community.

While experience is varied, so are the flags, which are interpreted differently, depending on the eyes of the beholder.

Aware that it wanted the whole community to feel represented, Budweiser's 'Fly the Flag' campaign created a collection of limited-edition cups that feature designs of flags from nine individual communities, to be handed out for free during the parade.

Budweiser said that although there is incredible awareness of the rainbow flag, flags of other communities under the Pride umbrella don't generally have the same recognition.

Representation of the LGBTQ+ community in advertising shouldn't be a gimmick for brands to appear 'woke.' For years the community has battled all forms of discrimination, however, progress can be made with the right visibility and exposure.

Rather than placing a token gay couple in an ad as a box-ticking exercise for LGBTQ+ representation, brands need to recognise that they are in a position whereby they can help raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and the challenges they face, creating systemic and positive change in the process.

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