WITHIN’s June 24th event, LGBTQ+ Inclusion: Pride and Beyond, our panel discussed the year-round need to authentically engage and connect with LGBTQ+ audiences through marketing. Panelists were Ruby Taylor, Founder of Legacy!; E. Leifer, Co – Founder & CDO of Play Out Apparel; Shaneé Moore, People & Culture Coordinator at WITHIN; and Oli Pleydle, Creative Project Manager at WITHIN. The discussion was moderated by Marie Roker-Jones, co-CEO, Essteem.
The conversation was informative and animated, so we encourage you to watch it in its entirety, but here are a few choice questions, quotes and takeaways from the event.
Q: How have you seen LGBT+ representation changed and evolved throughout your career? How has it improved? Or has it? How is it still lacking?
Oli: One of the trends that I have noticed is that we’re still very much a monolith in the queer community. And I think that’s probably where we have our biggest opportunity to show a demonstration.
It’s not all one type of queer person … There’s a whole spectrum of black people. A whole spectrum of the Asian diaspora to [make] feel comfortable and [give] visibility to. And the same needs to be applied when we look at queer stories and queer individuals and how we’re portraying the queer community.
E: I think the main thing is the world is diverse. That’s a fact. It’s an actual occurrence … and it includes all these different types of people. That is what needs to change and keep growing [for] the broadest representation that can possibly be out there.
Yes, it’s gotten better, but it seems to be these little vignettes and these moments that are the most socially acceptable or the ones that people are going to relate to or not be offended by the most.
Q: As members of the LGBTQ+ community, what effect does lack of representation or rather inauthentic representation, performative action have on you?
Ruby: [How] does that impact me personally? It has been hard being a Black Christian woman from a southern family. That creates stress. And then once you see somebody on TV that looks like you, that is a part of you, it makes you feel like, “Ah, okay. I am seen, I am heard. My life has validity,” right? It makes you feel accepted. So many times, I was told that it is not acceptable for you to be Christian and then for you to be gay.
Shaneé : Until this day, I have not found any visibility for a femme bisexual black millennial. You don’t exist or rep on television, in the media. You don’t exist. So, how is it that I know I exist, and I know that there are other women out there who feel that they exist, but there’s no representation at all anywhere? I identify a certain way. I have certain purposes. And if it’s not seen, does it exist?
E: Representation and visibility are just so important across the board, especially for younger folks. It can be the difference between your quality of life literally going forward and how you develop as an individual …
There’s been this misconception in marketing, in mass marketing, especially, over the past few decades that this sector is small. Their money doesn’t matter. It’s not going to make a difference to your bottom line … and that is not the case. It’s especially not the case with Gen Z. Legacy brands better hold on because the younger generations are not having it.
Q: When you see that in authentic representation or lack of it, does it change your opinion of a brand or a company?
E: When brands are taking steps, and they’re doing it right, it definitely resonates. That’s a given. I think a lot of brands don’t realize that when you are doing it in an inauthentic way, it doesn’t land.
What it really says to me, especially as a marketer, and somebody who’s a 20-year fashion industry veteran, is that those people are not represented inside your company either. Your company culture doesn’t handle this at all because if you have it internally and it actually exists for you, then you’re able to project it out. If it’s merely performative, it reads so quickly to people who get it.
Oli: If 2021 has shown us anything, it’s that groups can infiltrate markets. They can drive brands to make decisions a hundred percent. I think that a lot of people do buy with their heart, and I certainly do.
Q: It’s Pride month. So many brands are trying to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community by participating in Pride month. So, what are some of the brands that are getting it right?
Ruby: Nike. They just did an amazing commercial for the Olympics. They did that thing right. They had representation, diversity, and just togetherness to show how we are all interconnected. It was just amazing. I saw the rainbow flag. I saw some amazing LGBT+ community members, and just overall, they just, poof, push it out of the stadium.
Shaneé : The Orbitz commercial that recently came out. It’s for Travel As You Are. It’s basically the world is opening up again. It’s time for you to travel as you are, who you are, or whatever. Orbitz has continuously put this type of messaging out. They were the first travel organization to put out a print ad 20 years ago for LGBTQIA+ individuals, for seeing the world as you are. I think that they’re doing an amazing job.
E: Gillette has been taking some really good risks and a number of good storylines that they’ve done. And even just their challenging of misogyny, in general, has been amazing in their campaigns of The Best A Man Can Get, and really sort of upping the challenge with that has been amazing over the last couple of years.
Oli: I was able to find this really incredible Levi’s spot. They actually had incorporated all pronouns of love. What made it special to me is that it showed the vibes of individuals, people, folks just being themselves, sharing their experience, and just looking fine while doing so. Not sexy. Just being whimsical. I think that’s what everyone’s looking for at the end of the day.
The panel wrapped up with tips for brands that want to communicate better with diverse audiences, like using inclusive terminology, and not limiting merchandise categories to “men’s” and “women’s” sections. As E noted, “there are a lot of ways in which we talk in copy, especially when you’re trying to sell products, that are actually othering a lot of people.”
Trust was also a recurring theme, with Oli reminding brands that their words travel. “Our communities are very small. I think we clasp onto different brands that are able to provide insight and intelligence towards the communities that they’re marketing toward, and there is a sense of trust that gets instilled very quickly.”
Ruby called out research as being a double-edged sword: “Do not allow research to be your only focus because usually, the population that has been researched is very limited … We can do more than follow research. If you have a diverse team, listen to them. I’m going to say that again. Listen to them.”
Recording Now Available
The event ran right up to time and is chock full of actionable advice from authentic representation in creative to building trust and communicating effectively with a broad consumer base. If you missed it live, take the time to watch it for some more expert takeaways.
If you’re looking for ways to make your digital advertising more authentically inclusive, let’s talk.
Featured image by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.