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The worst LGBTQ+ campaigns, ads and initiatives

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The most uninspired and offensive campaigns ever created for the LGBTQ+ community.

It is always great to see a brand showing support towards the LGBTQ+ community. Representation in the creative industry is certainly on the rise, though there are still some issues to tackle – especially when it comes to the teams working behind the scenes.

As a direct result of this, some brands don’t exactly excel when it comes to showing support to the community. LGBTQ+ is about more than just a rainbow flag you can slap on your logo, and when the representation is tokenistic or feels like a box to tick in your upcoming campaign, your arguments will be weak and your efforts will be pointed out for what they are.

Many of the brands featured in this list will have moved on since their campaigns aired and their initiatives went live – but those works are still available online, and they can serve as a way to show future generations of creatives how not to do a LGBTQ+ campaign. See the following list as a chance to learn, more than a direct attack towards the brands involved – except in a few, overtly embarrassing cases.

As part of this Diversity series on Creativepool, we have already taken a look at the best of the best. Now it's time to look at the flip side of the coin.

H&M’s 2018 Rainbow Collection

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This is not as much a bad initiative as it is really just uninspired. The, well, ‘rainbow collection’ from H&M came across as quite lazy, apparently celebrating the right to “love whoever you want,” but featuring simply some world cities with the rainbow flag slapped over it, a few slogans and (you guessed it) an overall rainbow theme ranging across the collection. Sure, some of the profits went straight to charities supporting the community – but is that really everything that the H&M creatives were able to pull off?

7Up - Jail

This ad isn’t just not funny nor it misses the mark – it’s just plain offensive in places, and quite bad taste in others. It has it all: prison rape jokes, stereotypical gay tropes and in general a failed attempt to result funny when promoting 7Up. No wonder the LGBTQ+ community found it quite offensive – and it shows that humour can be a double-edged sword, when handled incorrectly.

Marks & Spencer - LGBT Sandwich

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Image credit: Twitter, @PumpItLowda

Ah, the LGBT sandwich. Lettuce, Guacamole, Bacon, Tomato. Launched in 2019, you can praise the creativity of Marks & Spencer for coming up with a ‘different’ twist on their usual products, but the community was left unimpressed – and in some cases just plain mad. Not only the sandwich is targeted towards a non-vegetarian/vegan community, it (most probably inadvertently) ridicules the LGBT community by implicitly reducing it to an acronym on a sandwich. Part of the profits was going to LGBT-supporting charities, but that was not exactly clear from the rainbow-coloured packaging, which led some users to share their enraged opinions on Twitter.

GoDaddy - Lola’s Business

Now, we know that GoDaddy seems to be creating ads for the sole purpose of having them banned – so it’s no wonder this one was banned too from the Super Bowl. But it still doesn’t make the ad itself acceptable on any level. In the ad, a black gay protagonist going by the name of ‘Lola’ is setting up their own business to sell their lingerie online – using GoDaddy, of course. The ad is so stereotypical, degrading and offensive for the gay community that broadcasters were forced to pull it. Take a look for yourself, if you want.

Snickers - Speedwalker and that ad

So… It’s time to talk about Snickers. The brand cannot be excluded from any list discussing the worst campaigns and practices in LGBTQ+ marketing. And it failed with not one, but two ads two years in a row.

The first one, which aired in 2007, is the one you can see above. Two mechanics recreate the famous spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp with a bar of Snickers, only to then pull away from the kiss disgusted and wanting to “do something manly” to make up for it. Things like slamming your pal with the car’s trunk and jugging motor oil, for instance. You know, manly stuff.

The year later, Snickers did it again. In the Speedwalker ad, Mr. T chases a poor speed walker down the road, accusing him to be a “disgrace to the man race” because of his not-so-manly walk and inviting the audience to “get some nuts” at the end of the ad. Unsurprisingly, the ad was pulled. And I feel I don’t even need to explain why.

Any brand putting on a rainbow flag - and who doesn’t really mean it

Okay, okay, hear me out here. There are some brands out there pulling off amazing initiatives and campaigns for the LGBTQ+ community every year, some of them even on a monthly basis and without the encouragement of Pride Month. Then there are others who just jump on the bandwagon, but don’t really follow through their words with real action.

When not followed by some real action – such as improving representation both in front and behind the camera, or supporting charities with some donations – these temporary rainbow-rebrands can be seen as tokenistic and not really represent a true sentiment of the brand. Consumers will notice. And it doesn’t pay a service to the broader LGBTQ+ community at all.

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Here are two opposed examples: Twitch and YouTube. Twitch is constantly under fire from the LGBTQ+ community for making some poor judgement choices – such as the PogChamp emote vote just this week. But it incorporates diverse streamers throughout most of its narrative, and despite missing the mark here and there, they are overall consistent with what they claim to be. Now, YouTube is another story entirely.

In 2019 (so not even that far back in time), YouTube went under heavy criticism after it allowed some homophobic videos to remain on the platform, albeit demonetised. Even then, it took some time for YouTube to take action and actually demonetise those videos, whereas lately Twitch has been quite proactive in safeguarding its own community. The same year, YouTube’s algorithm was accused of being biased and discriminatory, restricting recommendations and making it difficult for LGBTQ+ creators to earn money with their craft.

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YouTube repeatedly slapped a rainbow flag over its logo during Pride Month, and it turned black in support of the Black Lives Matter movement last year.

Users were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the brand in both cases, yet another proof that a brand’s support must go beyond words and turn into thoughtful actions for the entire community.

Only then will the industry become truly diverse.


Header image: Daniel James on Unsplash.

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