INTERVIEW | Pride Advertising & Marketing

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Inherently, the world of advertising and marketing is distinctly heteronormative. It’s true that no two people are the same, and some who distinguish themselves within the LGBTQ+ community feel a sense of relief and belonging, almost instantaneously. For others, the path to acceptance requires slightly more reassurance and validation. It’s habitual for us, as humans, to require cues and prompts that let us know we’re “normal.” As an inclusion to the LGBTQ+ community myself, one of my primitive exposures to the wide world of relationships was through advertisements. Sure, there were certain trailblazers who subtly hinted at LGBTQ+ identities, such as Ikea’s 1994 dining room table advertisement:

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Ikea’s ad was to emphasise that everybody is welcome at its stores, looking to humanise homosexual couples in a time when the only acknowledgement of the gay lifestyle was in few and far between print campaigns.

But this advertisement strictly ran after 10pm, and only in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. The concession just simply wasn’t viewable or deemed acceptable for “family hour” programming, and the advert created masses of hassle for Ikea, such as the American Family Association leader, Rev. Donald Wildmon, calling for a boycott of all Ikea stores. 20-odd-years-later, we’re beginning to see more recognition of the mainstream exploring crucial subjects such as intersectionality of the black, gay, male identity - as per the Oscar’s Best Picture, Moonlight. We’re starting to see this in ads too, although these largely focus on sexuality and don’t dare traipse into gender identity or fluidity. Long story short, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to representation in common marketing and advertising.

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Moonlight has been described as a “powerful affirmation for gay black men.” (Josh Lee, writer for The Guardian).

Pride Advertising & Marketing, commonly shortened to PrideAM, is the world’s first advertising LGBT+ network, formed in 2015. The organisation is not-for-profit, and consists of over 140 volunteers from the advertising, media and PR world. The mission is simple: the group are a lobbying and advisory group, encouraging anyone who will listen to harness the power of advertising and communications for good.

As society is arguably more divided on LGBT+ issues, particularly with the external stimuli of recent political inconveniences, PrideAM is needed more so than ever to help promote positive role models in the LGBT+ community, and eradicate prejudice and stereotypes that historically bred from the advertising and marketing of the past.

Speaking to Pride Advertising & Marketing President, Mark Runacus, I seek to find out more about PrideAM; its importance, its struggles and successes and its hopes for the future. As most of us are innately privileged to be in the majority, it’s pivotal to understand the trials and tribulations LGBT+ experience daily, to present your brand as a responsible and humane asset to the industry - authentically, of course.

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Mark Runacus, Chair of the DMA (UK) Group, an owner of creative agency Karmarama and President of PrideAM.

Q: PRIDE ADVERTISING & MARKETING IS TWO YEARS OLD NOW. WHAT MADE THE ORGANISATION FIRST KICK OFF? WHEN WAS “ENOUGH, ENOUGH”?

We emerged when conversations were dominated by Brexit, Trump and terrifying LGBT+ prejudice in Africa and Russia. And sadly, those conversations continue. The inspiration was another network called WACL - Women in Advertising and Communications, London – which was set up in 1923 (YES 1923!) to fight gender diversity in advertising. One of my colleagues said, “Where’s the gay WACL?” So, we decided to create it. BUT we didn’t become WACL. By comparison WACL is exclusive, and we are fiercely inclusive. It’s also important to remember that the creative sector has a poor track record in diversity. LGBT+ presence isn’t even measured, along with others like disability, but gender and BAME are, and there’s still a long way to go.

Q: DO YOU EVER THINK, OR HOPE, THAT PRIDEAM WILL ONE DAY BE OBSOLETE? THAT THE INDUSTRY WILL EVER BE SO CONSCIOUS AND REACTIVE TO THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY, THAT IT WILL NO LONGER BE NEEDED?

Absolutely. We know that advertising is part of the fabric of our society. Youngsters create some of their role models from images in advertising. We’ve been absent from advertising for too long and thus have lacked role models. We’re changing that one ad at a time .

Q: WHAT ARE THE MAIN REASON(S) BRANDS SHY AWAY FROM INTRODUCING LGBTQ+ ROLE MODELS? IS IT FEAR OF BACKLASH?

Backlash is one reason. We explain how to prepare for and prevent that in our “Outvertising” guide. Another reason is that brands and their creative partners still don’t believe it’s important, and that in part is caused by the fact that our creative departments aren’t diverse. How can we communicate effectively with society if we don’t reflect it?

Q: DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE YEAR, WHEN PRIDE CELEBRATIONS ARE IN FULL SWING, DO YOU SEE MANY BRANDS JUMP ON THE BANDWAGON JUST FOR THE SAKE OF IT? IS THIS A POSITIVE FOR PUSHING AWARENESS, OR IS IT DEEMED EXPLOITATIVE?

It’s both. We welcome brands taking steps towards more diverse and inclusive behaviour. We always encourage them to be brave in their LGBT-friendly content and to avoid “gay washing”: merely slapping a rainbow on an existing ad. There’s ample research evidence to show that consumers think better of brands that are authentically inclusive and diverse in every way; in their advertising, in the way they deal with their employees, and their business partners. Consumers are savvy enough to see when brands are merely paying lip service to it. And they will avoid those brands who are being fake.

Q: WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE INCLUSIVE ADVERTISING OR MARKETING CAMPAIGNS FROM THE LAST YEAR OR SO, THAT HAVE INCLUDED REPRESENTATIVES FROM THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY, AND WHY?

Whilst there’s been some great strides taken here in the UK, I’m a little saddened by the fact that my favourite campaign is an international one. It’s for ANZ Bank. Built on a simple but powerful insight about LGBT+ life, it makes me cry every time I see it. Because that ad is about me. I’m still scared to hold my Partner’s hand sometimes when we go out in public. I’ll keep fighting for LGBT+ equality until the day I can comfortably hold his hand everywhere and anytime. Beautifully brilliant.

Q: WHEN INTRODUCING LGBT+ ROLE MODELS IN MARKETING AND ADVERTISING, HOW CAN BRANDS ENSURE THEY ARE BEING AND APPEARING AUTHENTIC WITH THE APPROACH?

This will differ from brand to brand and from category to category. We always advise brands to look inside before they start an LGBT-friendly campaign. Does the company have an exemplary diversity and inclusion policy? Does it have an LGBT+ network? If not, then they should start one and nurture it. They should use their LGBT+ colleagues as a powerful insight source and as advocates for the campaign when it breaks.

You can follow Pride Advertising & Marketing on Twitter, under the username @PrideAMuk.

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