Hold Up, Harold!
Is it me or is it a daily routine for the radio to offend me and at least 45% of the 4.9Million known gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transsexual South Africans commuting to work to make their average 20k per month? With 44% of us living in Gauteng and 38% living in the Western Cape and 21% of us having a disposable income of up to R8K monthly according to Lunchbox Media, why would any brand want to offend the Pink Rand?
Sadly, my stomach churns every time I hear the radio ads where Harold's twangy voice proposes straight men and women buy flowers and 'choccies' for every occasion from Valentines Day to Father's Day. It's like the voice is saying, "Trust me, I am an effeminate gay best friend, I know what works". Then again, there was also a 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". UHHHHHM 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 they advertised to them (instead of poking fun at them), 83% want more brands identifying with them, and 57% feel ignored as customers. Again, why would any brand want to offend this gold mine?
No wonder LGBTI media, like 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 Beyonce's 'All Night' and Axe asking if 'it's ok to experiment with other guys'.
That's generally what we get: Two seconds 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 ten-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 Transsexual's are disseminated via the media, 31% of us are considering suicide and 21% have tried, according to The Other Foundation. So thanks for the sensitivity car brand mentioned above, while we are trying to accept ourselves, 1% of the South African population says it will actively go out and hurt us, leading to a crisis like '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 Chechnian concentration camps (the first since world war II), and ISIS is throwing blind folded gay boys off of building roof tops.
LGBT Marketing Recommendations in SA:
With regard to LGBT representation, I generally see three types of creatives and marketing managers in South Africa.
1: The kind that "wouldn't want to put their brand at risk" by being inclusive. I call this group 'Kadyrovs", after Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who believe LGBTs exist.
2: The kind that feels they are "brave and progressive" but lead to using 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.
3: The kind that sees humans, understands the deep human insights about being LGBT and seeks 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, who on 3 March 2017 aired the first same-sex kiss between Logan and Divan during Prime Time television. The backlash from the South African 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 South Africa, such as the Google Home advert to Nike's #WeBelieveInThePowerOfLove, Coke's advert 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 South African 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 know a gay man, lesbian, bi-sexual or transexual person. 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 Directors, top SA Digital Strategists, Finance gurus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, After 9's, Body Builders, Skinny, Young, Old, Black, White, Coloured, Asian, Indian, Athletes, Dis-abled, Rugby Players, Artists, G0ys, News Anchors, Surfers, Skaters, Taxi Drivers, Pokemon Masters, Geeks, Nerds, Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Tswana, Xhosa, Ndebele, pedi, Sotho, Twana, Venda, Swati, 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 South Africa. Look to the Jozi Cats and break stereotypes, promote education, and self love.
Give us our own airtime: We are worth more than two seconds in your brand montage. Can we have LGBTI executions online and on TV please? More so could we represent LGBTI as racially diverse? We are not only white, hence 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.