The world is getting queerer so where is the authentic representation?
Britain is getting queerer.
According to YouGov one in five young people in Britain now identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual and with the number of 18-24s identifying as bisexual eight times higher in 2019 than it was in 2015.
It is a positive move within society and one that signals a willingness for people to pursue their authentic self.
So why then is advertising failing to authentically represent this shift?
Now I’m not suggesting the ad industry is blind to LGBTQ people, far from it.
Great campaigns from Starbucks to Argos have featured the experiences of trans and Black, Asian minority ethnic people respectively, but this has often been drowned out by a plethora of big budget ads from Coca Cola to Burger King whose depiction of queer life is often male, white and middle class.
It is also to a lesser extent a vision of queer identity through a very heteronormative lens, showing gay men getting married, shopping for gas, arranging mortgages and raising children. It is an identical depiction to those of straight people with the only difference being they sleep with someone of the same sex.
However, this heteronormative, white, middle class vision of queer people is out of step with being LGBTQ in Britain today.
It’s a queer Britain that is both equal parts female, male and all the spectrums in between.
It’s also a queer Britain that is not just white but trans, Black, brown, working class, disabled or other marginalised people.
Yet it is a Britain that is often overlooked by brands. In the words of Linda Riley, owner of Diva Magazine “lesbians buy toothpaste too”, and yet many brands are failing to acknowledge this.
So, what more can we creatives do to address this?
Shift your point of reference of what it means to be queer.
The idea of a binary sexuality is out of step with the industry’s focus on gay life and is often at the expense of other sexualities while contributing to the already prevalent bi-erasure.
By turning a blind eye we miss out on alternative perspectives and instead fall into lazy and predictable narratives. It’s a difficult challenge few have successfully solved, with the exception of PayPal and their 2017 Busting Myths campaign.
Consider the intersectional and multifaceted identity.
As queer identity becomes more mainstream so does the breadth of different peoples and communities it encompasses.
Disability, working class, older adults, BAME and religion are a few of the examples of other marginalised communities that overlap with the LGBTQ identity and can be explored to great affect with no better example being the Netflix show ‘Special’.
Think outside of the heteronormative box.
The right to marry and have children have been hard won rights for LGBTQ people and are not ones to be so easily ignored but they are still representative of a small part of the community.
Instead, LGBTQ people are more likely to live with friends and have a pet than a child.
That’s why when bringing to life queer stories don’t always think the point of reference has to be straight as there is often more freedom and excitement in exploring the unconventional as per Rowse’s Honey campaign Three Bears.
Don’t be afraid to embrace the marginalised.
There is a worrying trend, in part linked to the industry's obsession with programmatic, that dictates advertising should reflect its audience.
This is simply untrue.
Brands should instead focus on emotive stories without worrying if the scenes depicted are those that reflect the audience reached.
When hunting for powerful queer stories, it is important to not be afraid to seek out the unknown for it doesn’t matter if you haven’t lived the experience as proven by Starbuck’s hugely successful campaign #WhatsYourName.
While addressing LGBTQ people within advertising is no easy feat it is also one of those golden opportunities.
A moment where doing the right thing can link directly to driving financial success.
While there are always risks it’s important to be brave and continually look at new ways to push the boundaries and create work that has the potential to truly leave its mark on culture.
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