Brands spanked for Pride tokenism in LGBTQ+ backlash

Gay prideFurther evidence of marketers’ blinkered attitude has emerged in a new study revealing a fall in the number of LGBTQ+ people in Britain who feel that representation of the community in advertising is positive, inspirational and pushes boundaries.

The second annual research – commissioned by Karmarama, in partnership with Gay Times and conducted by YouGov – reveals representation in ads has regressed significantly in the eyes of the community; down 9% from nearly three-quarters (74%) in 2019 to two thirds (65%) this year.

In fact, only just over a third (36%) of LGBTQ+ respondents feel ads are truly reflective of their community, another sharp decline from almost half (48%) of last year’s panel.

The majority (82%) of those surveyed also feel that representation of LGBTQ+ people is tokenistic – almost exactly the same as in 2019 (81%) – with brands more focused on the optics of diversity than addressing diversity related issues head on.

This tokenism extends to brands’ activity during Pride Month, which is a marquee moment for brands’ inclusivity campaigns in Britain.

Only a third (32%) of the marketers surveyed said their campaigns and events engage with the LGBTQ+ community independently of Pride celebrations, despite a huge proportion of LGBTQ+ consumers (84%) wanting brands to make an effort to engage with the community outside of Pride.

With more than two thirds (67%) stating they would be more willing to spend with a brand that engaged with LGBTQ+ people, there is a clear opportunity for brands to tune in to the wants and needs of the community, the study insists.

Despite the clear and growing disappointment of the LGBTQ+ community, marketers seem largely unaware of their frustrations. Only a quarter (25%) of marketers do not agree their business successfully represents and engages with the LGBTQ+ community, and less than half (43%) of marketers agree their business sense checks or tests their messaging with LGBTQ+ audiences.

Karmarama chief executive Ben Bilboul said: “This research shows that we as an industry are failing to make proper progress on representation. Too often, our industry’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion does not translate into meaningful, long-term change. Consumers are smart, and they can see when brand purpose is and is not authentic. Equal representation has to be part of a company’s entire culture, and at every single level.”

Gay Times CEO Tag Warner was slightly more forgiving. He said: “Although the results may not show the most positive picture, they clearly demonstrate that we need to work harder and smarter as an industry. We’re encouraged to see consumers demanding more from brands – especially when it comes to committing to the community outside of Pride.

“Marketers should respond by thinking of LGBTQ+ marketing as a year-round responsibility, and not a calendar celebration. The consumer base is more diverse and aware than ever, which means what was ‘good’ a number of years ago simply doesn’t cut it in 2020. We should be taking this year of reflection to engage with our colleagues and the community and ask their honest opinions – the time to start is now.”

The report goes on to recommend five steps for brands:

· Diversity of thought: Hire an inclusive workforce to ensure that all outputs – creative or otherwise – are based on a range of diverse perspectives. It is also important that LGBTQ+ representation is intersectional, which enables creative to be more inclusive and nuanced.

· Listen to customers: To avoid stereotypes and oversimplifying the LGBTQ+ experience, act on customer insights and sense check your communications with the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to creating campaigns.

· Become a year-round ally: Ensure your representation of the LGBTQ+ community extends past Pride celebrations. Authentic representation should be an ongoing commitment, not just a moment in time.

· Engage with underlying causes: Work with dedicated LGBTQ+ organisations and get involved with LGBTQ+ causes to ensure brand commitment goes beyond the bottom line.

· Define your commitment: Authentic LGBTQ+ representation must be a growth journey and a constant learning curve for brands. Set out a clear road map for achieving brand goals that focus on a long-term commitment to inclusive representation.

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