Let WorldPRIDE begin! In this guest post, Ogilvy art director Alex Ward argues as brands attempt to clamber on-board the LGBTQ+ community and with all their clichés, the one-size-fits-all marketing hit is never going to cut it…
Three gay men and a bi woman walk into a pitch.
When I started my career in advertising, anyone (myself included) would have assumed that to be merely the first line of a politically incorrect joke. But eight years on, the Australian landscape for LGBTQ+ people has changed, and although there’s plenty of progress to be made, we’re more visible than ever before.
As we catapult into WorldPride and squeeze into outfits that would make my mother clutch her pearls, brands are pouring out messages of love for the LGBTQ+ community.
So why do I feel my eyes roll when I see yet another plug socket telling me that ‘love is love’?
I’ve seen more pride campaigns than I can count which play on this same sentiment. And yes, at an extremely simplified level, the notion of love – the emotion itself – is the same. But what that sentiment fails to do is celebrate difference.
I have the joy of working with many people within the queer community – which is how three gay men and a bi woman end up in a pitch meeting for a pride campaign. And guess what… they have completely opposing views on what brands should be doing in the LGBTQ+ space.
The reality is, every individual within the queer community has a different lived experience. Some will have grown up with support. Others will have trauma. Those different letters in the LGBTQ+ alphabet have different histories, different biases thrust upon them, and different levels of representation.
I know that my life as a white gay man does not reflect that of a trans person of colour, or even a white gay man of a different generation. No two people in the community are the same. So why is it that we’re still so often spoken to by brands as a homogenised group?
In the 2022 film Bros – the first gay rom-com from a major film studio with an almost entirely LGBTQ+ cast – actor Billy Eichner challenges this notion of ‘love is love’.
“It became this kind of soundbite… But our lives are not identical. Our relationships do look different, and our sex lives can be different sometimes.”
The Parks and Recreation alumni explains: “I think in an effort to make ourselves palatable to the straight world out there, we use that terminology. But ultimately, things are more complicated than that. And things are more interesting than that.”
To me his words ring true. Brands often default to generic, catch-all messaging out of fear of alienating straight people, or not pleasing every LGBTQ+ person. But it’s no more possible to please every queer person than it is to please every straight person.
Advertisers have known for decades that when we speak to all, we influence none, and so brands invest in targeting all manner of niche straight audiences. Yet queer audiences are rarely given the same consideration. Some queer people are conservative. Some are liberal. Some believe brands shouldn’t be playing in LGBTQ+ spaces, and some believe brands should be doing more.
Our opinions on LGBTQ+ projects and queer issues are rightly sought after, with nuanced views that only come from lived experience. But it’s important to remember that the opinion of one does not represent the entire community, as is the case in the straight world.
As we continue to engage our teams during WorldPride and beyond, both in-agency and with clients, I challenge everyone to recognise the LGBTQ+ community, not as a hive mind filled with rainbows and glitter, but instead a collective of individuals with diverse voices with stories to share that are joyous, weird, funny, emotional, and provocative.
When brands embrace that difference, and stop trying to appease all with generic, homogenous messaging about how everyone’s the same, they open up the possibilities to create unique, thought-provoking, and exciting work that has the opportunity to make real progress. At the end of the day, LGBTQ+ people are pretty goddamn interesting. So let’s celebrate that in the work that we make, and get even more of those queer opinions in that pitch room.
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