This Pride Month was a brutal reminder for all of us, brands included, that Pride must be a protest and progress isn't achieved with rainbows and slogans alone.
During Pride Month, Outvertising united members of the ad industry and civil society in asking brands to stand behind their Pride campaigns, brave the backlash from anti-LGBTQIA+ groups and support the community with meaningful actions.
More than 120 organisations have endorsed our statement, including industry groups such as the World Federation of Advertisers and ISBA, civil society organisations like Stonewall and GLAAD and, crucially, the UK's 10 biggest media agencies by spend.
Brand allyship has been tested
I'm certain some brands have sat on their Pride Month campaigns this year as an exercise in risk management. While that's disappointing, it's preferable to their running campaigns only to pull them at the slightest bit of resistance – giving the impression that backlash works will only embolden those who seek to harm our community. What also hurts is to see trans+ talent being failed in the most basic of ways.
Trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney says she was not contacted by Bud Light at any point over the past few months when she faced a torrent of abuse and credible death threats after her Instagram post in support of the brand. Is regulation required? As Jamie Wareham argues for QueerAF, broadcast TV had to wake up to the dangers of failing on-screen talent in the wake of the Jeremy Kyle and Caroline Flack scandals. It is now regulated for that reason, with amendments having been made to Ofcom's Broadcast Code.
Perhaps that's a column for another day. For now, those brands that have braved a backlash from a loud minority and a click-hungry media have demonstrated that a knee-jerk reaction rooted in commercial considerations alone – like that of Bud Light – is not the one to emulate. Look to Wickes and the North Face for the example to follow. Brands that have a strong sense of their values, and have used them to guide their actions both internally and externally, will win with consumers in the long run.
Advertisers are funding disinformation about LGBTQIA+ people
One of our statement's most significant challenges to the industry concerns responsible adspend: invest in media committed to truth and integrity, and divest from titles and platforms that profit from disinformation.
In March, I wrote extensively about the relationship between adspend and LGBTQIA+ hate crime, asserting that advertisers are too removed from the impact of that spend. Many are unknowingly funding what I've previously explained is the largest coordinated anti-trans campaign we've ever seen.
Sensationalist headlines drive clicks. The inflammatory language and bigoted narratives drive attention, and that attention is then sold to advertisers.
I want you to better understand what this disinformation looks like. One stark example from last month is the false story that children were identifying as cats. I'm inclined to lean into cat puns here, but this disinformation is too damaging for that kind of levity. Let me explain where this came from and why it is so damaging for trans+ people.
This "news" originates from a misrepresented TikTok video filmed at a school. It is a story that the school itself confirmed as baseless. Yet it was still uncritically accepted as gospel by the mainstream media. It's harmful because it rehashes homophobic paranoia such as that around equal marriage.
It was US Republican senator Rick Santorum who promulgated this rhetoric 20 years ago, saying that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman and likening homosexuality to bestiality and paedophilia. We've all heard the argument that equal marriage would lead to people marrying their dogs; this is where it began.
It was Piers Morgan in 2017 who asked if he could "be an elephant?" during a heated back and forth with a non-binary couple on ITV's Good Morning Britain. This infantile, slippery-slope argument is an attempt to de-legitimise the real lived experience of trans and non-binary people.
All the while they could have been interrogating the government's planned schools guidance which, if the leaks are to be believed, could seriously harm the mental health and threaten the physical safety of gender non-conforming students.
Various reports suggest the guidance would ban trans+ kids from using the facilities they were most comfortable using and compel well-meaning teachers to "out" trans+ kids to their parents in direct violation of their safeguarding commitments. The official guidance is expected to be released imminently.
Over the past five years, there's been a 217% increase in the number of "news" stories and opinion pieces about the trans+ community, most of them replete with misinformation and disinformation. In a nearly identical time period, hate crime against trans people has shot up by 156%. This is not a coincidence.
It is my view that as a collective force, business has substantial power to promote social good with values-driven investment, and to render fear- and hate-mongering unprofitable in the same way. We know that 50% of news publisher revenue comes from this investment.
Top 10 media agencies committed to divesting from disinformative media
EssenceMediacom, OMD, Wavemaker, Mindshare, Zenith, PHD, Starcom, Carat, the7stars and Spark Foundry have all endorsed the need to actively divest from this kind of disinformation in the media.
Our hope is that these agencies will elevate this issue with their clients, resulting in media plans that are underpinned by moral conviction. This, in turn, will increase pressure on outlets profiting from disinformation to reevaluate their output.
So was this Pride Month a watershed moment for advertisers? I very much hope so but it remains to be seen. How much longer can brands loudly profess their LGBTQIA+ inclusive credentials, while funding the lies that cause violence to be perpetrated against us?
These things are fundamentally incompatible and as the anti-trans hate continues to intensify, so does the scrutiny on brands to interrogate their role in the ecosystem of disinformation.
Let's start matching words with deeds; love is love, but money talks.
Campaign has contacted The Telegraph, The Sun, The Daily Mail, GB News, Talk TV and LBC for comment.
According to community database Dysphorum, from January to the end of June this year, there have been 3,516 articles about trans+ people in the UK news media (excluding Pink News) – the majority with negative framing. All with advertising around them.
Marty Davies (they/them) is joint chief executive of Outvertising, the marketing and advertising industry’s LGBTQIA+ advocacy group; and co-founder of Trans+ Adland, a grassroots community group of trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming and intersex people across the world of marketing and advertising. They are also the founder of creative strategy consultancy Smarty Pants.
To read more visit Outvertising.