Opinion

For brand building with LGBTQI+ communities, the real treasure lies beyond the end of the rainbow

As Mardi Gras approaches, it's time for brands to look beyond token opportunism, writes Getty Images & iStock Asia Pacific's head of creative insights, Kate Rourke.

In 2021 brands have come a long way in their acknowledgement and engagement with the LGBTQI+ community, and it is exciting to see so many brands come out in force for the LGBTQI+ community, but let’s be honest: most consider their job done with a well-timed ‘Happy Mardi Gras’ post on their social channels.

While brands might think that they are building affinity with LGBTQI+ communities and their allies by doing this, the reality is quite different, unless there is follow through and support for the community. A better way to make a meaningful connection with and gain the loyalty of the LGBTQI+ community is with simple, continual visual representation, 365 days a year. The more we visualise LGBTQI+ individuals in the media we create and consume, the more we can increase acceptance.

Not only is frequent visual representation more genuine, it’s an approach that builds loyalty, benefits brands’ bottom line and enriches our society. Our Visual GPS research suggests that while 8 in 10 ANZ consumers say they expect brands to be consistently committed to diversity and inclusion, only 4 in 10 feel accurately represented.

Brands would be remiss to overlook the buying power of the ‘pink dollar’ and the role of authentic and consistent representation in winning it. In 2017, ANZ estimated the economic benefits of marriage equality related to weddings alone would be $650 million in the first 12 months of the marriage equality vote being passed. Not to mention that Australians more broadly want the nation’s big businesses to speak up on social and environmental issues – and those who do stand to raise their profile. Our Visual GPS research suggests that 78% of Australian consumers are buying with their values in mind. They are doing everything from boycotting brands that went against their values, to attending a rally or protest, or purchasing from a brand that supported a cause they care about. In order to connect with the wider Australian consumer who care about social good, are expecting companies to be “consistently” committed to diverse and inclusive stories in their advertising, real and continuous stories around the LGBTQI+ community is a must.

Visuals reflecting LGBTQI+ people participating in the same everyday tasks as everyone else need to be incorporated — working, going to school, doing laundry, cooking, running errands, visiting family, going to the doctor, walking the dog, grabbing a coffee or planning a vacation (remember those?). By focusing on these everyday moments will normalise the community as part of wider society and demonstrates that sexuality and gender-identity are only one aspect of your full identity. It is about broadening out those visual stories if you truly want to connect not only to the community but crucially to the wider Australian consumer. Globally we are incredibly visually savvy (84% of all communication is now visual) and can spot it when it is fake, so it is important to ensure that not only we are representing this community but we are doing it authentically which means showing all those different experiences and backgrounds which make us who we are. Visual representation of the LGBTQI+ community is crucial in determining how accepting people outside of that community are of those in it. Proctor & Gamble recently released a study in the US revealing that respondents who have been exposed to LGBTQI+ individuals in the media are more accepting of the LGBTQI+ community over the past few years, compared with respondents who had not.

This is critical. According to Lifeline, while LGBTQI+ individuals make up approximately 5% to 10% of the Australian population, they have significantly higher rates of suicidal ideation and poorer mental health. Contributing social factors include experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence, and ongoing social exclusion.

While we see major progress in the form of milestones like marriage equality and the recent bill banning LGBTQI+ conversion therapy in Victoria, the political tensions and calls for delay that this provoked among opponents prove how far we have yet to go.

So don’t let your true colours fade. Establish year-round rainbow rapport, rather than highlighting your opportunism. The LGBTQI+ experience is far from singular or one-note—it’s layered, diverse and as colourful as that rainbow symbolism so closely associated with it. Visualising all of this variety remains integral, and we intentionally direct our photographers, filmmakers and illustrators to showcase the entirety of the experience—across all communities, ethnicities, family structure, ages and body shape. Last December, for example, in partnership with GLAAD, we released a set of comprehensive guidelines including best practices for creating authentic and compelling images of the LGBTQI+ community, common terminology, clichés to avoid, as well as ways to create a safe and welcoming set.

However, no matter how much visual content we create that represents this community, it’s up to brands to use it. Brands looking for a safe and, dare I say, more palatable way to depict the community without risking offence to more conservative customers, are the ones that will lose out in the long run. Once members of the LGBTQI+ community are depicted as everyone should be — namely, as dynamic, multi-dimensional, authentic and human — that’s when real progress is at hand. Until then, don’t let those rainbow hues fade. Hoist those flags up higher and let’s get to work.

Kate Rourke is the head of creative insights for Getty Images & iStock Asia Pacific.

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