There’s a saying in our industry, “it’s PR not ER”. It’s used to remind us that we’re not doctors or nurses working through the night on matters of life and death. It’s ‘just’ brand campaigns.
But is that doing the impact of our work a disservice?
The role our campaigns have in dictating social narratives and norms has a huge impact. From detergents slowly realising that men can also put a wash on too, to the still startling lack of Muslim representation in Western brand campaigns. I’m a huge fan of the phrase “see it, be it”, not just to become what you are seeing but to be an ally for it.
It’s Pride season and London Pride is marking 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK. You can talk about 50 years of progress, however, it took another 47 years for equal marriage laws to be passed and the Met Police has stated a 35% increase in reported LGBT hate crimes since 2014.
Future Labs recently reported that brands have more powerful voices than governments. In a political climate in which LGBT rights are under threat in the US and now in the UK with the DUP coalition it is more important than ever that brands take a stand and properly commit to LGBT representation.
It can’t just be heteronormative LGBT tokenism from brands with an already liberal audience and one eye on the ‘pink pound’ (urgh), but proper representation. Nowhere is it needed more than in sports where the audience is still often engages in the sort of homophobic language that alienates a whole community. Where clubs have huge customer databases but the idea of a non-binary gender option when applying for a season ticket seems implausible and where pro athletes coming out are still the brave exception rather than the norm.
Nineteen years after Justin Fashanu took his own life, former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan gave a powerful interview to Cyd Ziegler for OutSports saying that he had intended to take his own life after retiring from the NFL. He saw the sport as a hiding place for his sexuality and that once he left that hiding place he would not be able to face life as a gay man. The pace of change in sports is still too slow and still risking lives.
Look around any sporting event and you will see brands, brands, brands. All contributing to the narrative of sports. It’s exciting. It’s explosive. It’s about fan passion. Be the best, the most committed. None are talking about or contributing to the narrative of inclusivity (notable examples Deutschland Bahn’s brilliant “The Passenger” spot and adidas’ Valentine’s campaign).
So this Pride season, let’s take a step back and think about the impact the brands we look after are having on our audiences. It will be a brave brand to truly take on the issue of LGBT representation in sports, but find me a sports fan who doesn’t appreciate bravery.