It’s been 47 years since the first march through London streets and over that time the meaning of Pride has evolved making it as much a celebration as an important reminder that the fight for equality has not yet been won. The latter comes into sharp focus when you consider the 2018 Pride Matters report in which over 1 in 3 LGBT+ people reported being verbally abused because of their identity, sexuality or gender, and over three quarters of LGBT+ people said they didn’t feel comfortable showing affection to a partner in public.
Studies in recent years have also highlighted that the LGBT+ community often feels ignored and invisible when it comes to advertising and although there has been some noticeable progress in terms of representation in UK advertising there’s still a way to go. While LGBT+ campaigns during Pride Month are positive and welcome initiatives, advertisers should be encouraged and feel empowered to work towards making LGBT+ consumers routinely visible in all types of marketing - and be unapologetic about doing so.
That said, it can be all too easy to miss the mark - more than being ‘visible’, LGBT+ representations should be genuine. In terms of rules, it’s always important to consider rule 4.1, which states that marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Sexual orientation and gender are among a number of personal characteristics that advertisers should take particular care with.
Ads which paint non-straight or non-cis-gender characters in a derogatory light or make use of potentially negative stereotypes, even when the intention is to be humorous or light-hearted, are often likely to be considered offensive or harmful. Discussing your campaign with an organisation that supports and represents the ‘group(s)’ you’re featuring can help give you a steer on what’s likely to cause offence; when dealing with such an complex and nuanced area, along with an issue as subjective as offence, campaigns that draw closer to the ‘line’ will still carry a fair amount of risk.
An ad featuring representations of trans-women along with the claim “Spot the stallions from the mares!” and a voice-over attempting to guess the ‘gender’ of the people featured, broke the rules because it trivialised a complex issue and depicted a number of common negative stereotypes. On that basis the ASA ruled it caused serious offence and condoned and encouraged harmful discriminatory behaviour, despite the advertiser having consulted with a transgender support group during production.
In the past, the ASA has dealt with complaints about ads from organisations with ‘anti-LGBT+’ views and while it is not the ASA’s place to arbitrate between conflicting ideologies and they recognise the right of any organisation to express its views including in paid for advertising - such rights are always subject to the rights of others, including as provided for in the Ad Codes. They won’t permit ads that cause serious or widespread offence or harm and care must still be taken to avoid these things when expressing views and opinions.
Similarly, the ASA does receive complaints from members of the public who find an LGBT+ depiction offensive in and of itself and it’s an inescapable fact that the most complained about ads in both 2016 and 2017 feature this point of complaint on a number of occasions. Whatever our personal misgivings about complainants’ views on this point may be, it’s important to note that the ASA would never uphold a complaint on that basis and have explicitly stated that “a reference to homosexuality… would not in itself cause widespread or serious offence or constitute irresponsible advertising”.
But, if you’re depicting physical intimacy such as kissing, don’t forget that sexually suggestive imagery needs to be carefully targeted and sexually explicit content should be avoided, regardless of the sexual orientations of the characters involved.