Monday 18 November 2019

More brands must come out in favour of diversity

Dublin Bus, the company wanted to show its support for one of the biggest annual celebrations in the capital by showing that Pride is not just the preserve of those celebrating on the day.
Dublin Bus, the company wanted to show its support for one of the biggest annual celebrations in the capital by showing that Pride is not just the preserve of those celebrating on the day.

John McGee

Chris is a transgender 15-year-old who was born female but is now growing up as a male. Recalling tales of bullying and being shoved into lockers at school, his story is touchingly told in a social video, created by agency Boys + Girls, which tells the viewer that help and support was at hand to help him get through the many day-to-day challenges he would face.

Stephen, meanwhile, is the father of a gay son who - probably like many parents - initially struggled with coming to terms with the fact that his son is gay. Stephen, however, was one of many parents to show their pride in their children as they surprised them by attending the recent Pride celebrations in Dublin.

" I wanted to do something for Pride to show him that I am truly proud of him, not for being gay, or for coming out, but for being who he is. Before all this, I never felt that it was my place to go to Pride, but I've realised it really is, because I am proud," said Stephen in an equally touching social video that was created around the recent festival by the agency Rothco.

What is interesting about both pieces of content is that they were created by Ulster Bank and Dublin Bus respectively. In the case of Chris, Ulster Bank wanted to show its support for the LGBTQ community by highlighting its Rainbow Network, an internal support group which was set up 10 years ago to help promote diversity and inclusion within the bank. As his mother Sonia is a former employee of the bank, Chris was able to get the support and advice he needed to help him with his transition.

In the case of Dublin Bus, the company wanted to show its support for one of the biggest annual celebrations in the capital by showing that pride is not just the preserve of those celebrating on the day but can be experienced and shared by family and friends.

Two different stories, two different perspectives but one unifying theme that celebrate diversity and inclusivity in modern Ireland while showcasing how brands can do their bit to inform and educate Irish society.

For many years, the Irish advertising industry shied away from portraying the LGBTQ community possibly because many believed that the country wasn't ready for it. More likely, advertisers and their brands felt uncomfortable and unsure about the messaging, preferring instead to adopt the default position of playing it safe. But times are changing and modern Ireland is a lot different to what it was 10 or 20 years ago, while advertisers and their brands are a lot more comfortable with showing their support for the LGBTQ community than ever before. Indeed, some of the key sponsors of the Dublin Pride festival, included brands like Aer Lingus, Tesco, Vodafone, Axa, Indeed.com, Bank of Ireland, Google, Facebook and Mastercard.

But the Irish advertising and marketing industry still has some catching up to do with other countries where it's now quite common for LGBTQ folk to feature in advertising campaigns.

While we may have voted for same sex marriage in 2017, we still have a long way to go before we can say, with honesty, that we have nailed the issues of inclusivity and diversification in society.

For an industry that hasn't covered itself in glory by reinforcing annoying and often outrageous and lazy gender stereotypes in much of its output over the last 100 years, there is a danger that it could repeat the same mistakes when it comes to its portrayal of the LGBTQ community.

"The last few years have seen a sea change in the depiction and representation of people like the LGBTQ+ community," says Rory Hamilton, president of the Institute of Creative Advertising & Design and executive creative director of Boys + Girls which worked with Ulster Bank and its Becoming Chris campaign.

"For the first time we are challenging the stereotyping of traditional families, traditional depictions of people and their traditional roles in campaigns. Brands have been eager to demonstrate their support of Pride and have started to show a real commitment to changing how they portray people in their ads. These steps can only be seen as the beginning of broader change. While the LBGTQ+ community are finally being portrayed in ads, too often the campaign is about their inclusion. This defeats the point. While we are patting ourselves on the back for our diversity, we aren't really displaying any," he says.

"Our current portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community is also narrow one. Gay couples are shown as young and often seen kissing at their wedding. It's a first step, but where are the older couples, where are the non-traditional depictions of the community as a whole? Which brings us back to the start. The removal of stereotypes from advertising and marketing is important, but it isn't easy. It's a journey, one that we are only at the beginning of," he adds.

Hamilton, of course, is right. While marketing can play a role in informing and educating society, it's true impact can be assessed when it helps change behaviours.

Let us hope it's not a long journey.

Sunday Indo Business

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