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Sex sells, but what about sexuality? It's time for real diversity of sex, gender, creed and colour in advertising

Sex sells, but what about sexuality?

As a professional photographer based in London with an international client base, I am constantly looking at advertising and how images are used to tell a story. As a lesbian, rarely do I see any that reflects the every day world I inhabit or aspire.

It’s both interesting and confusing that the only mainstream ads I see featuring LGBT people seem to be gay, white men. They usually fall into just two categories - young, trendy and slim or handsome, older and established affluent types. Whereas, looking at the rare lesbian coverage, it’s usually highly sexualised and very feminine or a stereotype of a butch, flannel shirted woman.

So when I was asked to take part in a competition by Diva Magazine highlighting this issue from a lesbian point of view, I threw myself into the brief. I saw it as an opportunity to be authentic and commercial at the same time. The competition asked for a redo of classic ads using lesbians as everyday characters, not as glamorous, sexy, pornographic additions. They wanted us to answer this: 'Sex sells, but what about sexuality?'

I joined with Chrissy Totty, then head of innovation at Vizeum UK, and her team, a mix of LGBT and straight creatives to come up with an answer. We tried to create ads where there were everyday scenes but typically had used straight couples doing ‘normal things’ so we could replace them with a lesbian couple but make no difference to the message and where the sex of the user of the product was not an issue.

Thinking about family ads, we considered the idea of the Bisto Sunday Lunch replacing a heterosexual couple with a real-life lesbian one of mixed nationalities, it would have been visually beautiful but we discounted it as we didn’t want the wrath of social media to cause harm to the young children in their family. So, we put our energies into creating a remake of the Maltesers 'straw' ad.

Featuring a real-life lesbian couple, we created the kind of ad I would love to come across - two women affectionately sharing chocolate while chilling out watching television. Playful and sweet but not platonic and using the beauty of fun and affection, as opposed to sex, to sell the chocolate. While we didn’t win the competition, Maltesers parent company Mars was complimentary and I was gratified to hear its actually running a new series of Maltesers ads with diversity at its core.

Through the experience I realised that I can’t wait until the advertisers catch up, I need to be part of the process. To that end I show my personal photography in art exhibitions, I am an activist, a patron of charity and I donate my photographic services to Pride in London. I’ve decided to share this work as an act of love for my community, to show that love is love and that as a consumer, advertisers need to reflect my world. I want them to more than ever, and I want to be part of that process.

It’s time for the industry to put its money where its mouth is and push clients into creating more ads with real diversity of sex, gender, creed and colour. God knows in the present political climate we need it.

We have a long way to go to reflect the true depth of diversity in our society so lets push it forward.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day we’d like The Drum readers to show #loveislove by reimagining their favourite ads with LGBT characters. You have until 5pm on Monday to scamp up your ads and send them in to us. You can either share your work on Twitter using The Drum’s handle @TheDrum as well as the hashtag #loveislove, or send .jpg entries to gillian.west@thedrum.com and natalie.mortimer@thedrum.com.

We’ll be showing the ads online and celebrating #loveislove on Valentine’s Day (Tuesday 14 February).

Bronac McNeill is a professional photographer based in London. She tweets at @BronacMcNeill

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