By Rollo Skinner
Over The Rainbow
Pride weekend is here, but the annual rainbow-washing couldn’t make me feel any less proud. An outdated symbol for an updated community. What really makes me proud is that I live in one of the most open and inclusive cities on earth, and I’m entering an industry that can influence change.
But as we come to the end of Pride week I wanted to reflect on the ad industry and if it’s doing enough to promote a positive message for LGBTQ people.
Brands seem to think that if you stick a rainbow on it – you have a ‘gay’ campaign. And all these ‘rainbow’ campaigns, whilst incredibly well intentioned, only serve to alienate individuals further.
As a young man, the rainbow made me feel more isolated. A symbol and a mentality I didn’t feel a part of. And yes, maybe that’s because I wasn’t totally ‘proud’ of who I was. But like many others, it only furthered my belief I was an outsider.
This year there are endless examples. The #lovehappenshere campaign carrying a particularly ill-thought line. ‘Being homophobic is so gay’. Whilst mocking an old jibe, it’s perpetuating it.
Now I’m by no means an ad-aficionado. But I guess my experience as a consumer is just as, if not more, important. Who cares if some agency somewhere made an incredible case study video about rescuing all the LGBT polar bears and bringing a touch of glitter and inclusivity to the tundra… what was my experience as a normal, pre-ad-bubble-human-being?
The one campaign I saw that had a massively positive impact, and gave me hope for my own future is the ‘he said yes’ campaign from Lloyds TSB. My younger self was really affected by this, here was a brand saying I’m normal, here was a brand telling me I mattered, and I could lead the life I’d hoped for. For a more traditional future. Why must I be destined to dance on a sequin life raft, under a shimmering technicolor sky? I mentioned this to someone in the studio. They had felt Lloyds’ were using LGBT issues to further their brand. It’s funny how we’re always more offended on behalf of someone else than for ourselves. For me, it was quite the opposite. I could see that maybe the life I’d always hoped for, the one that would be lived out by siblings and friends was possible for me too.
I just want to portrayed as normal. Even if that ‘normal’ feels forced at first, even if it feels like it’s furthering a brand, normal is only normal when we choose to make it so.
Now, I know how easy it is to fall in the rainbow trap. Whilst making our Gay Pirate Radio station, Augustine and I firmly agreed no rainbows, but it wasn’t long before we were putting one into the logo. It’s a convenient semiotic for signalling the LGBTQ cause. And that’s what makes it so difficult to avoid.
Two years ago, I went to a gay pride march in Budapest. It was heavily policed and barricaded fearing attacks like the year before. Someone painted a rainbow on my face and before I was allowed to leave the safe area, police made me wash it off so I wouldn’t be attacked on the way home. There, the rainbow still means something. A symbol for a community that needs ownership of their cause, who are standing together in the face of adversity and violence. But here, in the U.K, ownership was lost the moment it became trendy to rebrand with a rainbow for the week.
I don’t just crawl out from my sequin-lined cave for one week in July, so give me something to feel proud about all year round.
So my message to the Penguins as we step out into the wider world, when next pride comes along, help your agency do something more. Tell stories. Stories of hope, stories of love, stories to make people truly proud. Brands should be doing more. I don’t mean more rainbows, more glitter, I mean more representation. Normal representation, that doesn’t feel like tokenism. Change begins when we’re over the rainbow.