This year’s Pride is being transformed into socially distanced, at-home festivities and incredible protests in support of black trans lives. The season’s splash of rainbows and corporate-sponsored Pride events is largely absent. But just as we’re seeing with a spate of commitments from players as diverse as arts organizations to PepsiCo acknowledging Black Lives Matter and systemic racism, advertising can play a role in advancing social justice. Through greater public representation and funding support for strategic initiatives, businesses can help.

Such moves are not without controversy. Only a few years ago, the Kellogg Foundation drew ire for funding support of BLM and an ad for Cheerios featuring a mixed-race family faced a deluge of hate comments. Advertising that depicts LGBTQ folks has also garnered criticism. This comes from both detractors and the communities represented themselves.

Gay Money Talks

LGBTQ purchasing power in the US hovers around $1 trillion. Globally, that number is around $3.7 trillion. Yes, the advantage of affluence in the community disproportionately benefits white cis gay men. But we are undeniably a huge market segment. Queer folks want to see messages of support and representation in advertising.

On the flip side, it was widely publicized in 2012 that Chick-fil-A Foundation donated to two anti-gay organizations. Their mostly conservative fanbase doubled down on their support. They were met with kiss-ins and ridicule. Perhaps it was their expansion into more liberal cities — rather than protests and education efforts — that led to an end of that funding support. Right wing pundits criticized the switch.

When social movements reach a tipping point of public support, advertising can make what was once radical into something mainstream and apolitical. Activists routinely criticize corporate sponsorships at pride events for creating a sanitized “corporate pride.” In the landmark book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, the authors caution that social movements for liberation can be co-opted by nonprofits, foundations, and corporations in support of the status quo.

The shift in public perception can lull people into complacency. Those at the margins of the LGBTQ community — people of color, trans folks, the poor — are too often left out of the conversation. While advertising featuring the gay community continues to grow, devastating policy can seem to undo the incremental changes made.

That said, representation does matter. Seeing our relationships and families represented in commercials, rainbow flags splashed in storefronts everywhere, gender fluidity in fashion ads, and countless other examples, does play a part in shifting the public narrative. And it can sometimes lead to positive political change.

The Early Adopter: Absolut

Absolut, the Swedish vodka sold by Pernod Ricard, is not afraid to take risks in their advertising strategy. Absolut began promoting the brand in gay publications back in 1981! The vodka, sold at Studio 54 in the 80s, led to an encounter with Andy Warhol. That initiated their legendary print advertising collaborations with artists. Here’s a sample of 10 of those ads speaking to the LGBTQ community, created by the ad agency TBWA Worldwide.

The Quiet Supporter: Subaru

Lesbians love to joke about our affinity for Subarus. But before the targeted ads of the 1990s, the company’s marketers identified lesbians (as well as hikers, teachers, and others) as fans of their all-wheel-drive vehicles. Those marketers took a risk at a time when other companies were pulling their ads from the Ellen sitcom (after she came out). Subaru promoted the brand to gays and lesbians in ads created by Mulryan/Nash. Sometimes the messages were “coded” to the community. That gamble paid off. The unassuming car manufacturer won lifelong dedication from the tribe.

The Turnaround: Target

Long before boycotts for “promoting gay lifestyles,” a former Target CEO made a sizeable donation to an anti-gay politician. But we’re a forgiving bunch. Target made strides as allies by standing up for marriage equality (see this ad featuring gay dads). They publicly came out to welcome trans employees and shoppers. These days, we love their campy aesthetic, their Pride clothing section, their inexpensive housewares, and their open support for the community.

In Our Own Words: It Gets Better Project

The LGBTQ community has long wielded the power of advertising approaches to lobby for change to policy and to shift public consciousness. The “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” campaign for ACT UP during the height of the AIDS epidemic was unprecedented. It was politically charged, clever, and wildly influential.

The “It Gets Better” Project was launched in 2010 by columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller. It features videos made in response to high rates of death by suicide of gay teens and youth perceived to be gay. It is strategic storytelling at its finest. Google Creative Lab created a spot highlighting the campaign the following year and leveraged it to show the power of the web for good.

Trans/Genderqueer Visibility: Secret

It’s not the first ad or product geared towards the trans community. But this spot for Secret deodorant features androgynous queer model Karis Wilde. Ending with the tagline, “there’s no wrong way to be a woman,” it’s understated and sweet. Parent company Proctor and Gamble (P&G) has garnered criticism, however. The spot affirms the right to use a bathroom aligned with one’s gender identity. But the company doesn’t defend those rights for their own employees or more broadly.

LGBTQ POC Visibility: Spotify

The 2014 “Can’t Find the Words?” commercial from Spotify is a sweet, subtle take on that feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you’re interested in someone. This time, the characters are two Black men and we watch as those three dots indicate waiting for a response. LGBTQ people have always been well represented in the arts, so it’s only fitting that a music streaming app would take this approach.

It’s hard to deny the role that advertising can play in social change, whether it leads the way for other brands or simply follows the trend. It can show support for our communities, advance our causes, and help shift culture. Companies that take those risks show support for their own diverse workplace, earn social capital, and cultivate brand loyalty. Happy Pride!


About the author.
Jess Powers writes about marketing, food, and wellness. She has experience in nonprofit communications and emergency management. Follow her @foodandfury.

 

As our streets continue to flood with protests in response to the killing of George Floyd and ongoing police brutality against Black individuals, people across the nation are asking if change will ever come. The fact that we can spend June celebrating the LGBTQ+ community — despite the first Pride being a riot, not a parade or celebration — is a beacon of hope that change is possible with persistence and protest. While Pride events may be canceled this year because of COVID-19, these 12 films allow us to celebrate LGBTQ+ social movement contributions from the comfort of home.

Before Stonewall (1984)

These days, it’s hard to conceive of a time when a person could be arrested for not wearing articles of clothing deemed specific to their gender assigned at birth. This documentary features appearances from cultural heavyweights Audre Lorde and Allen Ginsberg, and is narrated by Rita Mae Brown. The incredible archival footage led to Emmy Awards for Best Historical or Cultural Program and Best Research. (For a short, ahistorical account of the hours leading up to the Stonewall riots made by queer and trans artists, check out Happy Birthday, Marsha!)

Born In Flames (1983)

This radical lesbian feminist film tells the story of an imagined queer future, shot documentary style. Even though it’s fictional, it depicts direct action, organizing, and explores issues of race, policing, and socialist democracy. A “film of resistance,” this sci-fi wonderland influenced generations of queer filmmakers and thinkers and is somehow both historical and ahead of its time.

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017)

This French drama about the Paris chapter of ACT UP (the grassroots direct-action group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in the 1990s is drawn from the director and screenwriter’s real-life experiences. Expect protests against a slow responding government, direct action against Big Pharma, and heart-wrenching character stories.

Brother Outsider (2003)

This film tells the story of Bayard Rustin, a “troublemaker,” pacifist, and one of the key strategists of the civil rights movement. Although he was openly gay, he largely remained in the background so his sexuality wouldn’t derail the struggle (much as the mostly white, mainstream gay organizations during the fight for gay marriage later distanced themselves from the struggles of trans people, immigrants, and people of color).

The Celluloid Closet (1995)

Based on Vito Russo’s book of the same name, this documentary wrestles with the topics of representation, sexuality, and subtext in the cinema. As a film historian, Russo was troubled by negative stereotypes and how culture impacts political rights. He co-founded the media watchdog group, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and was active in ACT UP.

Paris is Burning (1990)

Despite controversies about voyeurism and being produced by a white director, this film remains a stunning cultural document of the queer, trans, black, and Latinx ball circuit in Harlem. Movement and dance is a powerful way to support one another and build community and financial support — and has historical roots in survival and resistance to the dehumanization of slavery.

Pride (2014)

Based on a true story, this heartwarming comedy depicts lesbian and gay activists who built unlikely alliances during the 1984 UK coal miner’s strikes. Having their own experiences of police harassment, the activists decide to raise money and go to a Welsh town, eventually winning over hearts and building solidarity.

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution (2018)

Growing out of the political punk subculture, queercore (or homocore) celebrates all of the messy, loud, rebellion of punk rock and queerness. It’s a rejection of normative gay culture. The filmmaker interviews band members, zine makers, filmmakers, and other scenesters.

Quiet Heroes (2018)

Another tearjerker, this documentary presents an intimate portrait of two women — Dr. Kristen Ries and physician assistant Maggie Snyder — who treated AIDS patients in the 1980s and 90s in conservative Salt Lake City, Utah. They served with love and compassion at a time when their patients were ostracized, defying the church and the law, in order to do the right thing.

The Times of Harvey Milk (1975)

Now part of the Criterion Collection and preserved by the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, this documentary pioneered featuring gay life in America. As the first openly gay man elected to public office (as a Supervisor in San Francisco), Milk was an inspiring civic leader who was later assassinated. (Gus Van Sant’s biopic, Milk, is also worth watching.)

Trembling Before G-d (2001)

Orthodox Jews — many of whom are obscured from view — are interviewed about their experiences growing up both religious and gay. It’s a tender depiction of people who are living their lives in the closet or are denounced by their close-knit community and how they cope and support each other.

United in Anger (2012)

This powerful documentary chronicles the ACT UP through oral histories of its members. Fighting during the epidemic against government indifference, corporate greed, and entrenched homophobia, we see how civil disobedience and organizing power led to policy and attitudinal changes.


About the author.
Jess Powers writes about marketing, food, and wellness. She has experience in nonprofit communications and emergency management. Follow her @foodandfury.

 

George Floyd. Breonna TaylorAhmaud ArberyChristian Cooper.

Conversations and imagery surrounding police brutality and Black suffering may be prevalent now, but the attention to the matter is long overdue. While this is a step toward a more equitable future in this nation, this emotional conversation can be exhausting, traumatic, triggering, and distressing.

Creative Circle’s Employee Assistance Program, provided by UnitedHealthcare and Optum, is open to all of our candidates and includes a free 24/7 emotional support line (866-342-6892), staffed by professionally-trained mental health experts.

We’ve also gathered mental health and self-care resources to support our Black candidates and the Black creative community during this time, and moving forward.


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Ways to Connect With Other Black People

Here are a few of the many groups out there that facilitate connections and conversations with other Black people:

To our Black and POC colleagues, candidates, clients, and communities, we stand firmly with you in the fight against systemic racism, overt and covert white supremacy, and brutality. Given recent events, we can no longer sit idly by on the sidelines.

To protest the injustices faced by the Black community, Creative Circle has made a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. We are working to amplify the voices of Black content creators. And we also want to use our platform to educate and provide resources for those who would like to make individual contributions. We are a company that is made great by its diversity, and that is something we do not take for granted.


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Sign a Petition

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Educate Yourself

Learn more about Black history and the Black experience in the US by reading the following books. (And simultaneously support local small businesses by purchasing these books from Black-owned bookstores.)

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