Stereotypes, inconsistencies, hypocrisy – some campaigns have them all, others just a few. The LGBT+ community can’t afford the privilege to say they are loved everywhere they go, and it’s perfectly fine for brands and campaigns to try and show some support – but it requires a whole lot of empathy to put your actions where your mouth is. And unfortunately, no, it isn’t as easy as selling a LGBT sandwich (sorry, Marks & Spencer).
This is not the right place for the worst LGBT+ campaigns of all time (though those will come soon too, fear not), but there are some practices in this industry that need to stop today, if we want to aim for a more inclusive world.
Backing down when sh*t hits the fan
Slightly unrelated example here, but it serves to prove the point: late last year, Sainsbury’s faced backlash after one of its three Christmas ads featured a black family. The most conservative side of Britain felt the need to manifest that disappointment by saying crap like “#NotMyChristmas” or similar stuff like that. And what did Sainsbury’s do?
They couldn’t care less. They stood their ground, and in fact, a lot of other retailers joined in with their personal #StandAgainstRacism. It was a powerful moment of many UK brands coming together, and I’m sure it showed underrepresented minorities that not everyone in this industry was hardwired to be a a-hole.
I praise the effort, M&S, but... please, no.
If your brand or campaign receives some backlash from conservative groups, for the love of all that’s sacred, do not back down. What do you think will happen if your target audience, the LGBT+ community in this case, sees that you don’t really believe in your campaign yourself?
Yes, you’ll lose sales. Yes, you’ll lose profit. But you will also gain a lot of supporters who believe in what you’ve done, and possibly some quite loyal and fierce brand advocates as well. Ignore those who say otherwise. And if this draws in the attention of a more conservative side of readers here, I don’t care. I mean, that’s pretty much the whole point.
Be careful with your humour. It’s all good to try and use some humour to convey your brand spirit, but you have to be clever about it. We’ll have a chance to talk about that Snickers ad at a later date, but straight males terrified of being gay is not funny and hasn’t been so for a while. In fact, it will come across as incredibly offensive to your LGBT+ consumers.
The problem is probably deeply rooted in our language, too. And coming from an Italian background, I can confirm it isn’t restricted to English either. Teenagers still use ‘gay’ as an insult and it will probably take a few generations for that kind of usage to disappear, as hopefully more parents will raise awareness of how harmful it is to use that word as an insult.
But it has to start somewhere. Your campaigns can be that somewhere.
This ad was deemed offensive to the LGBT+ community and pulled as a result.
There are misconceptions in the industry about how members of the LGBTQ+ community generally look and feel. Gay men are not all explicitly and evidently 'feminine,' in the same way that lesbians are not all explicitly and evidently 'masculine' (quotes added in place of more universal terms to convey the point). But there are still brands out there that fall on the trap of stereotypes.
It happens, and this lack of common awareness is certainly part of the problem. It is what causes a lot of racial stereotypes too. The only way to tackle this issue is with some consistent and structured research. Speak with your target audience, get involved in what they do, learn to get to know them better. The key to making memorable characters is giving them recognisable features and human flaws – not necessarily stereotypes. Connect with your audience to understand them, and your campaigns will become more clever because of that.
Don’t try too hard
Assuming that consumers will not see through a brand’s bullcrap is one of the most dangerous misconceptions in any kind of content production – even more so in advertising. If you are not genuine about your words, actions and messaging, your campaign will show and your audience will notice.
The Rainbow Cookie is an adorable little campaign by Oreo. Gladly they made them for real just lately!
A lot will disagree with me, but trying too hard and pushing inclusivity/diversity at all costs betrays hypocrisy and, sometimes, a desperate craving for attention too. Often because these brands tend to fall into the above mentioned stereotypes as well. The best examples of LGBT+ campaigns, stories and marketing are the ones that you don’t even notice until it’s too late. They are the ones that normalise being LGBT+ and make it part of the picture, in a subtle yet extremely clever way. Look at Starbucks’ ad on the #WhatsYourName campaign. How brilliant is that?
Put your money where your mouth is
So you have an amazing campaign that ticks all the boxes and advocates for diversity in an extremely amazing way. Brilliant. Let me guess though; you are still pocketing all the profits, aren’t you?
Image credit: Starbucks UK
If you want to truly support the LGBT+ community, your actions should speak louder than your words. Starbucks’ mentioned #WhatsYourName campaign had part of the profits from the Mermaid Cookies go to the Mermaids charity, supporting gender-diverse kids, young people and their family. Almost every time Disney makes a social initiative, a chunk of the profits will go to benefit those who need money the most. Even the debated Skittles all-white packs had some of the earnings go to charity. That is the one, true way to show support to the LGBT+ community – giving up your own money to support them.
If none of the above applied to you, congratulations! You are one of the few in this industry who actually know what they are doing about diversity. With time, hopefully, more brands and agencies will follow your example too.