PrideAM Christmas Review: Why Adland’s Stocking Stinks

Six months ago, PrideAM hit the headlines with its review of adland’s offerings.

By Phil Clements

Six months ago, PrideAM hit the headlines with its review of adland’s offerings. It was a wake-up call to the industry to think differently and dig deeper when it comes to LGBT+ representation.

Well, Richard Miles of Therapy and Phil Clements of Omnicom are back, on behalf of PrideAM, convening a special Yuletide panel with its eye on those eagerly anticipated Christmas campaigns.

This holiday season, it seems there’s little to ho-ho-ho about. Very few brands appear to have considered that LGBT+ people might celebrate Christmas just like everybody else does. This meagre feast prompts Jan Gooding, Chair of the Board of Trustees for Stonewall, to label most of what’s on show as “pathetically tokenistic.”

“In most of these ads, slight, small changes could have made a big difference,” suggests Jay Pepera, Business Development Co-Ordinator at TBWA.

Time to go digging through Santa’s sack and see what surprises await…

We kick off with Tesco’s ‘However You Do Christmas’, exhibiting their predictably mixed bag of faces and backgrounds.

“Let’s be honest. It’s diversity bingo, which is a start but not an end game,” says Jerry Daykin, Head of Partnerships at Diageo.

As Pepera points out: “It’s diverse, but not that inclusive. All these different types of people are sitting at separate tables. This definitely doesn’t feel like my family Christmas.”

And it’s hard to tell if there are any LGBT+ characters in the line-up or not. The group can’t decide if a pregnant woman and her birthing partner are meant to be a couple or not. It sparks an interesting discussion about this approach in general.

“It’s not easy to capture things like LGBT+ experiences or faith in a quick edit,” Gooding concludes. “It burdens creativity to keep having to try to show everybody. Why can’t we just give up showing straight, white people for a bit? We’ve had 300 years of showing straight, white people. There’s a lot of catching up to do. And get a gay team to write about gay people.”

“Mars have proved that if the ads are good they work. We should challenge brands to do ads that show one particular story,” Pepera concurs.

Lee Madine, Operations Manager for Exterion Live, weighs up the pros and cons: “Cramming everyone into the same piece dilutes the message. But there are kids in small towns for whom seeing this inclusion means a lot.”

Orange’s ‘Keep Christmas Wonderful’ Is full of festive funnies, but it loses on laughs when it comes to LGBT+ inclusion. The ambiguity of the ad may leave us all wondering, but it also leaves us unsatisfied.

“The assumption seems to be: ‘If they’re gay they’ll project onto it’. I shouldn’t have to fill in that gap,” says Gooding. “It’s like we have to be grateful that we could read into this that the person might be a lesbian – it’s ridiculous. If we suggest that around 10% of people are LGBT+, then look at how many people are in these ads. Am I really going to applaud someone for suggesting that this one person might be a lesbian? If it’s ambiguous, it’s pointless. It’s not damaging, it hasn’t caused offence – it’s just that you might as well not have bothered.”

Pepera is more suspicious. “I feel like some brands try to leave themselves a backdoor – and then they don’t stand by the community if there’s a backlash. They give themselves some wiggle room.”

And what does this tell us about how to both achieve authenticity and be clear about inclusion?

“To normalise, we have to over-index – you want to applaud this inclusivity but tell the brand they have to go further,” says Jackie Stevenson, Founding Partner of Brooklyn Brothers.

“If you do not deliberately and intentionally include, then you end up excluding,” agrees Daniel Nascimento, EMEA Media Lead at Google.

Taking stock of what’s been said so far, Stu Outhwaite-Noel, Creative Partner at Creature concludes:

“So the message is: Leave viewers in no doubt. Removing any broad brushstrokes of queer aesthetic, it’s about just going up a notch. Being overt. We talk about authenticity, but it’s really authenticity plus.”

One way around the problem of default heteronormativity is to include an LGBT+ icon (a strategy which Stonewall supports). This leads us to the [Elton] John Lewis advert.

There is no ambiguity about the rock star’s sexuality. And yet some of the most significant elements of Elton’s life seem to have been left by the wayside in ‘The Boy and the Piano’.

“This is a love song with no partner, no family,” Pepera laments.

“Imagine an ad about Victoria Beckham without the family,” Stevenson suggests.

Pepera goes on to consider what might have been: “If we’re looking at Elton John’s landmark performances, then the launch of his AIDS foundation springs to mind. Or his performance at his own wedding. Neither of those appears to be in here.”

Gooding focuses on the positives: “It’s very affirming. It says: This man is amazing. And that’s great for a traditional brand like John Lewis.”

“It’s just a shame that there could’ve been a prompt to invite people to accept the whole of his life and not just the rock star element,” bemoans Stevenson. “That’s what’s missing.”

“It’s a wonderful piece that will deliver for them, but it could’ve been better,” agrees Gooding.

A less well-known contender in the Christmas campaigns is Paypal’s ‘Dare Different Gifts’, in which Rylan Clark-Neal and a psychic (his words, not ours) race along the waterfront quizzing passers-by about their Xmas expenditure. This gift-giving inqueersition almost trips over itself as it hurtles headlong into convivial curiosities.

Our panel universally acknowledges that the creative looks like it was thrown together in less time than it takes to peel the sprouts, and the end result is so incoherent that it feels like you’ve been too bold with the bucks fizz. But how well is this ad handling inclusion?

“Rylan is a prominent LGBT+ person. In his early career he was often treated comically and quite problematically. Now he’s treated as a credible presenter,” Daykin tell us.

“He’s earnt his place on TV,” Madine confirms.

“I think he’s very good. It’s not tokenistic casting,” Gooding praises. “I think he’s very natural in the ad and everyone is perfectly happy to talk to him in the vox pops.”

So it’s just the quality of the creative execution that sees this seasonal scramble snowed under.

Whereas the M&S ‘Must Haves’ ad is more problematic than one might think at first. There’s a dragged-up fairy – a seasonal nod to panto performance – but it’s certainly not LGBT+ inclusion. And some of the panel think the core of the joke is actually damaging to the Trans community.

Jan Gooding’s position on this subject is very clear: “I would not wish to encourage the idea that a pantomime dame in any way represents the LGBT+ community. It actually mocks Trans people and we’ve become desensitized to this. It’s a part of our cultural history we have to question.”

So who made it onto the Nice List this Christmas? Who gets extra sweeties in their stockings?

Pandora’s ‘Christmas 2018’ gets definite plus points for opening with amorous lesbian aliments. In a stylish restaurant, sparkling earrings are gifted with adoring gazes. Our panel is reasonably assured of the romantic intentions of these two dining darlings, but did the makers miss a trick in the middle of this Sapphic supper?

“The message here is that the gift is so special you will remember it,” Nascimento proposes.

“And props to Pandora for trying,” adds Stevenson.

But while the eye contact says a lot, any physical intimacy has been exsected.

Gooding shares a moment from her private life to illustrate how things could be improved: “For example, my partner puts her foot into mine at the table. Ask lesbians for the details. For the nice little things you do.”

Throughout this review we’ve noticed depictions of straight couples that allow for kisses on necks, leaning on each other – all sorts of coded interactions. Same-sex couples are very rarely depicted the same way.

“Why did they bottle it?” Stevenson asks. “If the guy can kiss the girl, then the girl can kiss the girl.”

Top of Santa’s list is Ebay’s ‘If It’s Happening This Christmas, It’s Happening On Ebay’. Family frolics abound in this snuggly snapshot of LGBT+ homelife. As parents and kids bounce on a bed, it’s bright, vibrant and full of genuine joy.

“I think it’s wonderful,” declares a delighted Gooding, “Everything we’ve talked about is there. This feels like an authentic family on a family bed.”

“Thumbs up. It’s all so natural,” Stevenson smiles.

This unambiguous ad gets the nod of approval right around the table.

And so what would PrideAM be asking Santa for?

Well, for Christmas 2019 all we want is authentic, informed and noticeable representation in more than a couple of ads. If brands and agencies could create such amazing ideas for Pride Brand Makeover 2018, then we’re sure it’s possible.

And with that PrideAM wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Written by Phil Clements, Member and Spokesperson for PrideAM