In 2019 Channel 4 challenged brands to create more ads that better represented the LGBTQ+ community after a study revealed that out of all the adverts played on the channel, only 3% featured a LGBTQ+ person. They offered £1million worth of airtime to the winner, and it seemed as though progress was finally beginning to speed up enough to include those who had been marginalised for so long. Finally!
So when a meme began circulating this month on some of my favourite Instagram and Twitter accounts comparing how brands view the LGBTQ+ community vs what the community is actually like (i.e completely different), I was surprised at my own chuckle. One account received over 100,000 likes alone, and hundreds of people were responding with comments such as “the accuracy!” and “the misrepresentation is real”, and generally having a laugh about it. But it became clear that what makes the meme so funny, and why it resonated with so many people, is because it’s true. Scrolling deeper into the responses unveiled a community frustrated that in 2021, brands were still relying on stereotypes when creating campaigns about or aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. So what are they doing wrong?
I spoke to queer creator Elliott Adcock, who revealed one the biggest issues with current marketing campaigns is that they lack authenticity and depend too much on “generic Pride content” instead of unpacking issues on their own terms. For him, this “assimilation of moral and politically correct ideals has started to come across as extremely fake and performed”. And he’s not the only one who thinks this. In a 2019 poll hosted by the Gay Times and Karmarama, 72% of respondants felt the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in advertising was “tokenistic”, proving this performative promotion just isn’t working.
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Here’s the thing: LGBTQ+ is the umbrella term referring to a range of sexualities and genders, from transexual to gay and queer. But despite having their individual distinctions, too often brands lump them together as one, so of course creating a “one size fits all” Pride campaign is going to fail. The issue is that companies want to be seen as being supportive, but have yet to achieve nuance.
So how can brands create more inclusive campaigns?
Firstly, there needs to be a better range of diversity. One of the things Elliot wants to see is “more inclusion in identities, communities and culture from LGBTQ+ people”. A YouGov study found most campaigns exclude bisexual and transgender individuals and instead use same-sex couples. These couples were then more likely to be white, which again isolates the many LGBTQ+ people of colour and those of different cultures and religions. For Elliot, the best way for brands to ensure marginalised voices are heard is to include them in the creation process. This means compiling teams featuring LGBTQ+ and ethnically diverse individuals who can lend their own experiences and knowledge. After all, if you want to reach out to a certain group, then it makes sense to confer with those who are a part of it, right?
Interestingly, the Gay Times shared an article listing their favourite gay-inclusive adverts from a range of brands such as Coca Cola, Colgate and Campbell. Three very different companies, but what these ads all have in common is they show gay people in a range of normal situations, whether that be as parents, moving out of an apartment or playing baseball. It’s a relatively simple concept, but it goes a long-way in normalising the appearance of LGBTQ+ people in media as well as reaching a wider range of audiences within the community itself.
Clearly, there’s still a long way to go. Just speaking to Elliot alone, it was evident he had so many ideas for how companies can promote genuine diversity, such as creating content that educates viewers on queer history or promotes the stories of LGBTQ+ people of colour. The ideas and creators are there, brands just need to invest in them.
By Lucinda Diamond, food and travel editor of CORQ.