by Donovan White (@DonoWhite) Is it me or is it a daily routine for the media to offend me and at least 45% of the 4.9m known gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual South African commuters?
It’s a bright and exciting time to be alive. Creatives need only to step outside to bask in the diversity. We’re in an age where we actually don’t need stock photography and ‘Shutterstock’ definitions of people, because it’s so vibrant and eclectic, and marketers are so conscious of how people are represented that approvals on Facebook creative are taking longer, just so we can get the right racial and gender balance. Yet it seems as if we LGBTI aren’t part of these ‘people to represent’ considerations in South Africa — unless we become the creative concept designed for ‘normal’ clients.
Sadly, my stomach churns every time I hear the radio ads where Harold’s twangy voice proposes straight men and women buying flowers and ‘choccies’ for every occasion, from Valentine’s Day to Father’s Day. It’s as if the voice is saying: “Trust me, I am an effeminate gay best friend; I know what works”. There’s also the well-known car brand using the vehicle’s “unbelievable” benefits to help a boy come out to his father. “That’s brilliant”, the brand’s managers must be thinking, “we are so brave and progressive.”
Are you kidding me? The one-dimensional stereotype is so obvious, coming at a critical time when these communities need to be accurately represented.
How LGBTI South Africa feels
In 2012, Lunchbox Media conducted the world’s most-ambitious and largest LGBTI marketing census and study. I have yet to see something more comprehensive, but there are bouts of value in research done by the likes of The Other Foundation. Stats quoted here may have definitely increased since 2012, but it is worth noting 76% of SA LGBTs will support brands if advertised to them (instead of poking fun at them), 83% want more brands identifying with them, and 57% feel ignored as customers. So why would any brand want to offend them?
No wonder LGBTI media, such as Attitude or Instinct Magazine, clutch at straws and make a big deal of every two-second flash of a gay, lesbian or transgendered featured in ‘progressive’ advert content, from lesbians in Finding Dory to Beyoncé’s “All Night” and Axe asking if “it’s ok to experiment with other guys”.
That’s generally what we get: 2s and the stereotype of either being effeminate, sad, ‘a girl’s best friend’, theatrical, pedos or sex maniacs and predators.
LGBTI reality locally and abroad
South Africa, on paper, is the most-progressive African country with regards to LGBTI rights, becoming the first country in the world to prohibit discrimination in 1993 and the fifth country globally to legally allow same-sex marriage in 2006. The sad reality was proven by The Other Foundation, however. In real life, we may have seen a 10-fold increase in South Africans agreeing to marriage equality, and 51% of South Africans may believe LGBTs should have human rights, but 72% believe it’s morally wrong and 70% say LGBTs are “disgusting”.
While inaccurate perceptions of gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals and transsexuals are disseminated via the media, 31% of us is considering suicide and 21% has tried, according to The Other Foundation. So, thanks for the sensitivity, car brand mentioned above; while we’re trying to accept ourselves, 1% of the SA population says it will actively go out and hurt us, leading to a crisis such as ‘corrective’ rape of lesbians.
These are not the only things happening to us. Globally, only after an outcry has YouTube lifted its ban on LGBTI video content; gay men are currently being tortured in Chechen concentration camps (the first since World War II); and ISIS is throwing blindfolded gay boys off building rooftops.
LGBT marketing recommendations in SA
With regard to LGBT representation, I generally see three types of creatives and marketing managers in South Africa.
- The kind who “wouldn’t want to put their brand at risk” by being inclusive. I call this group “Kadyrovs”, after Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who believes LGBTs don’t exist.
- The kind who feel they are “brave and progressive” but tend to use LGBTs as a form of humour to commercialise and sell their brand to the masses. I call this group the Harolds after the flower-selling radio personality.
- The kind who see humans, understands the deep human insights about being LGBT, and seek to educate their normality in society. I call this group the Hendricks, after Imam Muhsin Hendricks, a Muslim leader in Cape Town who gives gay muslim men hope and the opportunity to practice their religion with dignity, peace and respect.
Harolds and Kadrovs are ‘un-South African’. To be a Hendricks marketing manager, look to the likes of local soapie, 7de Laan, which aired the first same-sex kiss between Logan and Divan during prime time TV on 3 March 2017. The backlash from the SA public on Facebook and Twitter was horrendous but the show handled it like a pro, allowing South Africans to show their true colours on a global platform.
There are tonnes of examples of brands doing it right globally but few in SA, such as the Google Home advert, Nike’s #WeBelieveInThePowerOfLove, Coca-Cola’s ad where brother and sister hilariously fight for the pool boy and Dove’s advert showcasing a transexual mother.
For the marketing manager seeing the value of the LGBT market and seeking to be a Hendricks, I have four personal recommendations:
- Know your audiences channels: 80% of SA LGBTs use social media, with 65% preferring digital, followed by a 50% who couple that with TV consumption. Work harder, and use algorithms to get your LGBT friendly adverts to your market. Think of immersive second-screen experiences as well.
- Get to know your LGBT sub-segment: The Other Foundation found that only 27% of SA knows someone gay, lesbian, bisexual or transexual. We are not all bottoms or tops, nor are we all lipstick lesbians. Know who you are talking to — we are more! We are pilots, top SA creative agency owners, top SA creative directors, top SA digital strategists, finance gurus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jewish, After 9s, bodybuilders, skinny, dads, young, old, black, white, coloured, Asian, Indian, athletes, physically challenged, rugby players, artists, g0ys, news anchors, surfers, skaters, men, women, womxn, non-binary, taxi drivers, Pokémon masters, geeks, nerds, Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Tswana, Xhosa, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Venda, Swazi, Tsonga, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujurati, your son or your daughter.
- Bravery lies in educating the human truths: Shockingly, The Other Foundation also found that only 20% of South Africans actually know and understand our constitution. Like Vodacom’s “Yebo Gogo” educated a racially inclusive society, so today’s brands have a responsibility to LGBTI SA. Look to the Jozi Cats and Exclusive Books — break stereotypes, and promote education and self-love.
- Give us our own airtime: We are worth more than 2s in your brand montage. Could we please have exclusive LGBTI executions online and on TV? More so, could we represent LGBTI as racially diverse? We are not only white, which is why the new pride flag was recently adopted. Additionally, Facebook has recognised well over 50 different genders, so brands have a lot to represent. If there is an outcry, your beautiful brand values will shine through and people’s lack thereof will, too.
On the flip side, it is time for the LGBTI community to come together and accept the love of each other and those unlike them. The Other Foundation found that religious groups in SA are the most-accepting of us. If we want the country to stop stereotyping us and let us in, then we need to do the same. A lot of this, and a lot less body shaming and racism within the LGBTI community, will go a very long way!
Love, after all, is love.
Disclaimer: This article was inspired by Harold and written because I have a love for those brilliant creatives who make amazing work beyond his dated creation. Their great work at One Show proved they can take the brand to greater heights without him.
Donovan White (@DonoWhite) is a digital strategist at NATIVE VML and is the lead digital strategist for Nedbank and Amstel. He has been named and awarded as the IAB South Africa’s Best Digital Strategist 2017 for his work on Nedbank.
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