Global brand strategist at Ogilvy & Mather London and Ogilvy Pride (O&M’s LGBT and straight ally network) Amelia Priddis explores identity, and lessons for brands.
A recent YouGov survey found that one in two young British people (18 – 24 years old) do not identify as 100 per cent heterosexual – which doesn’t surprise me. We are living in a socially liberal age where young people feel able and have opportunity to experiment without shame. But more than that, our identity is less fixed. People are less afraid to explore who they are. (And why not? It’s fun). So why do brands still stick people in boxes?
Social media has opened up a world where people can play out different roles; sometimes in secret. From websites such as Meetup which put you in touch with like-minded individuals for group activities, to apps for curious men and women to anonymously explore their sexuality; all tastes and dispositions are catered for. Now on dating apps such as Her, you’ll find a whole new vernacular, with people labelling themselves as polysexual, pansexual, fluid, new queer and even the mysterious ‘no identity’.
Popular culture is reflecting this shift. Role models are increasingly challenging fixed concepts of sexuality and gender. Lady Gaga openly admits her sexual fluidity; Miley Cyrus does not identify as either female or male, and Caitlyn Jenner has been commended for her very public transition.
Identity is now more fluid, and this is a good thing. With their identity less fixed, people are more open to possibilities outside their traditional concepts of self. But brands still cling to fixed ideas of LGBT (if they do at all). Every overt gay man is depicted as handsome, well dressed, loaded and always on Grindr. Every lesbian is either a superhot lipstick goddess or a hairy Mary. But this is ridiculous. We must escape the tyranny of the pink pound, where gay men set trends and lesbians love sports, cats and cars.
Today, too many marketers still put people in boxes (it’s segmentation gone mad). But it’s out of touch and not a reflection on reality. Increasingly, young people find straight lines too narrow. They’re into blurred edges, curious to cross the line. If brands don’t reflect this they risk being left behind. So much advertising today features nuclear families or handsome young couples hooking up. Even LBGTs (when they make the occasional cameo), look like straight people ‘playing’ gay.
Brands need to look at what’s happening in the real world. Check out the Roy family on Instagram (@therealmelroy) and note their 131k followers, for a glimpse into the lives of a ‘normal’ lesbian couple and their family.
If brands wish to connect, they must get comfortable with this prevailing curiosity. And get curious themselves. The world is an uncertain place. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it.