Linked to the idea that we are moving beyond traditional demographics is the way in which we are also beginning to see a shift toward a more neutral portrayal of key indicators of identity, such as race, sexuality and gender.
While we’re not yet at the point where issues of diversity are unremarkable, we are looking to a future where there is greater fluidity and nuance, especially at an individual level.
People are embracing the new normal of no normal, and will expect brands to do the same
Take, for example, Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition, or, more controversially, US civil-rights activist Rachel Dolezal, who identifies as a black woman, despite having been born white. Dolezal’s "outing", by her parents in an interview in June, sparked much criticism on social media – as did Rihanna calling her "a kind of hero" in a Vanity Fair interview – indicating that this is still a deeply divisive issue.
Nonetheless, it has opened up conversations about what it means to ‘identify as’. This is a trend of growing acceptance of people as they want to be, beyond traditional labels and signifiers. A future in which people no longer have to be put in clearly defined boxes.
The new normal
In Dazed and Confused magazine’s 2015 youth culture influencer list, Dazed 100, trans model Hari Nef ranked 68th. However, in a public vote, Nef came top of the chart. And according to a 2015 YouGov study, 49% of British 18- to 24-year-olds, when asked to plot themselves on a ‘sexuality scale’, chose something other than 100% heterosexual. People are embracing the new normal of no normal, and will expect brands to do the same. Certainly when it comes to gender, we can no longer think in a binary way.
Several high-profile people, including Miley Cyrus and Orange is the New Black actor Ruby Rose identify as genderneutral, some preferring the pronoun ‘they’ to ‘he’ or ‘she’. And the term Mx (a gender-neutral title to use alongside Ms or Mr) was this year added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Some progressive brands are reflecting this expansion of identity through greater neutrality.
A key example of this in 2015 was Selfridges’ Agender pop-up, which showcased clothing and accessories with allure beyond the conventional womenswear/ menswear silos. There is a call for increased identity gradations in marketing campaigns and materials, reflecting a move already being made in TV and film. However, brands still need to be incredibly sensitive.
As well as more diverse representations of people in media, there will need to be similar inclusion within organisations to ensure that people feel they are being accurately and appropriately spoken to. As Jan Gooding, Aviva’s group brand director and chair of LGBT rights charity Stonewall, tells Marketing: "If you get it right for staff, they will help you get it right for customers."