Lifestyle2CV POV

“I am more than just rainbows and glitter.” It's time to rethink LGBTQ+ representation in advertising.

An increasing number of people in the UK are identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community and more than ever before brands are fighting for a share of the £6 billion Pink Pound economy. With this in mind, we spoke to people from the LGBTQ+ and Heterosexual communities around the UK about their opinions on the current representation of the LGBTQ+ community in advertising.­­

“I am more than just rainbows and glitter.”  It's time to rethink LGBTQ+ representation in advertising.

While many believe the current state of play is "better than nothing", most are dissatisfied with the frequency and quality of representation and believe it is time to stamp out tokenism, move past stereotypes and start being truly inclusive.

Three quarters of those we interviewed said they would feel more positively about a brand that represented the LGBTQ+ community more genuinely in their advertising. This is fantastic news for brands willing to support the LGBTQ+ community, but it begs the question -What exactly constitutes a genuine representation?

Represent every letter.

"We just want to see ourselves in their campaign's - to identify ourselves as part of the norm, and to know that we're beautiful humans too." Bisexual woman, 29

There is a strong feeling that gay men, while still generally underrepresented, are way ahead of the pack when compared with the other sections of the community. Brands are especially neglecting the LBTQ+ sections, who scored an average of only 2 out of 10 on our 'perceived representation scale', compared to 5 out of 10 for gay men. Whilst the community values the representation that gay men receive, brands need to recognise that the other letters exist before they claim to be truly representative of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. 

Get to know the diverse community.

"I rarely see anyone in adverts who are like my mates or other LGBTQ+ people I know. Where are they getting their inspiration from?!" Gay male, 24

Brands need to be more creative in their use of LGBTQ+ people in advertising and not just rely on stereotypical representations. 61% of the people we interviewed believe that many fall into the category of box ticking for commercial gain. Only 11% of respondents believe that the people used to represent the LGBTQ+ community in advertisements are a true reflection of the community itself, with many who disagree citing that a lot of representations only feature young, white male models. 

With such a diverse group of people to choose from, brands are doing themselves a disservice by sticking to representations that are viewed by many as not a true reflection of the community itself. Brands need to get to know the community properly and embrace diversity throughout their advertising, not just with regards to sexuality, but spanning across ethnicity, age and gender too. 

Support is for life. Not just for Pride.

"Brands need to be involved in fighting for us year round if they want a piece of the 'Pink Pound' pie!"  Lesbian Woman, 41 

While it is encouraging that many brands put in effort to show their support of the LGBTQ+ community during Pride, 88% of our respondents felt that there is a lack of year-round support, which can make these efforts feel less genuine. Lloyds Bank is one example of a company trying to provide a more rounded level of support by including a gay couple in its 'For Your Next Step' advert, but also supporting Pride events and publicly stating its commitment to inclusivity in its workforce. People need to see more brands embracing the community and making them part of their brand story, just as they have always done when representing heterosexuals. It needs to be a mass movement, with the motivator being inclusion rather than just competitive advantage. 

Don't spotlight.

"You need to help put it into daily life so people don't think it's weird, feel ashamed about it, or want to hurt others because of it. If you're seeing it a lot, you won't think it's strange." Transsexual Woman, 30

It is felt that the more you spotlight the community in advertising, the more it can make them seem marginalised rather than just a natural part of society. 70% of the LGBTQ+ community interviewed would prefer to be included in adverts, but not specifically focused on. By increasing the use of advertising to subtly feature the LGBTQ+ community in the general public's everyday lives, people feel it will improve social acceptance of the community, and help in the fight against bigotry. Heterosexual respondents echoed this idea too, believing it was a good way to work towards integration and acceptance.

What does this mean for brands?

Of the people we surveyed, 75% would feel more positively about a brand that genuinely represented the LGBTQ+ community, and 45% said they would be more likely to spend with them. There may be some negative reactions from a small vocal minority (less than 3% of the people we surveyed), but it is the way the brand deals with these reactions that is important. McCain's faced this very issue after their 'We are family' advert first aired, and in response to homophobic abuse on Social Media, they doubled down on their support and released their next LGBTQ+ inclusive advert just a few months later. Unsurprisingly, in our study McCain's was mentioned repeatedly as a brand making a great effort to genuinely embrace diversity in their advertising.

''Not every family is heterosexual with 2.4 Children. It's much more complex. Our children get it, they're not even phased by it. But society influences them away from appreciating that every conceivable option is ok."  Gay Male, 45

A 2015 YouGov survey revealed that half of 18 to 24 year olds identify as something other than 100% heterosexual. More than ever before, this new generation will wonder why they are not being genuinely represented in advertising. We cannot change the past, but brands can truly make a difference to the future, and they can do it now. LGBTQ+ representation in advertising has the ability to spread acceptance throughout all sections of society. If genuine representation can create positive feelings towards a brand, whilst also helping to improve the lives of millions, what's not to love?

"Life is about love, hope, family and caring for each other, no matter what form that love takes, or who we class as our family..."  Heterosexual Male, 31


Greg Airey & Alex Karoni

Junior Research Execs

2CV London


Nb. 2CV's study was conducted with 330 people from the LGBTQ+ and Heterosexual communities around the UK, aged between 16-65 years between April-June 2018.