Abba Newbery: There are many gay role models on TV - just not in the ads

By Abba Newbery, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 18 October 2012 08:00AM

At lunch last week, I was discussing with Stonewall (the gay, lesbian and bisexual rights charity) the possibility of launching a new award to celebrate the representation of diversity, in this case the portrayal of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in advertising content. However, a brief trawl of the advertising over the past 12 months showed there would be few, if any, contenders.

Abba Newbery, director of advertising strategy at News International Commercial

Abba Newbery, director of advertising strategy at News International Commercial

A glance at the facts raises the question: why? The 3.7 million lesbian, gay and bisexual customers in Britain spend £70-81 billion annually. YouGov has shown that six in ten gay people (equivalent to more than two million consumers) say they are more likely to buy products from companies they think are gay-friendly, and half (equivalent to more than 1.8 million consumers) are more likely to buy products from companies that use images of gay people in their advertising. Stonewall's Living Together report found that nine in ten heterosexual people say their opinion of TV stars such as Clare Balding and Mary Portas did not change when they found out they were gay. And three-quarters of heterosexual people think the media still relies on heavily cliched stereotypes of gay people, while three in five believe the BBC is obligated to portray them accurately.

A browse of this week's TV schedule shows that broadcasters in mainstream TV are still way ahead of advertisers in presenting gay role models. EastEnders currently has a strong gay storyline, Balding has become a national treasure through her Olympics coverage, and Sue Perkins, Gok Wan and Portas have recently taught us how to bake, cook and run a first-rate hotel on Channel 4.

It's not just a UK issue. As four US states voted on the issue of gay marriage, the Washington Post observed that only one of the seven related ads broadcast in the contested states featured gay people talking about the issue. Political strategists clearly still see the issue as relatively dicey and have relied on heterosexual family members and friends of gay people talking about how the inability to marry has deprived their loved ones of the rights and opportunities they should have.

The truth is that even as gay people and same-sex relationships gain acceptance through pop culture staples such as EastEnders, Modern Family and Glee, the advertising industry remains woefully behind in its representation of gays, lesbians and bisexuals living openly with pride in who they are. And I am not talking about more campaigns targeting gay people, but more representation of alternative lifestyles as a means of selling mainstream products to mass audiences.

So here's my plea. Stonewall would love to celebrate our contribution as an industry at portraying a gay lifestyle as a backdrop to modern-day consumerism. Please let's give it some ads to judge next year.

Abba Newbery is director of advertising strategy at News International Commercial

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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