This week is Pride in London; the LGBT festival that climaxes in a colourful parade marching through the gay heart of Soho. The topics of love, desire and identity are being explored in galleries, theatres and even churches across the capital. It's not surprising brands want a piece of the conversation, but when does the real message of inclusivity get lost under a rainbow coloured veil of commerciality?
Skittles gave up their rainbow, whilst brands from Barclays to Tesco are supporting new colourful versions of theirs. A hit with the creative industry, we have to ask if these temporary brand gestures can create a truly meaningful and lasting impact to the LGBT community?
At the Cannes Lions everybody was talking about diversity. I mean everybody. "Come out; be honest. I am what I am and that's a pretty good brand idea," said Sir Ian McKellen. The 78-year-old Oscar nominee and gay rights activist was in town urging brands to include more diverse role models within their stories. A little less conversation a little more action, as the lyrics go.
What we see is so important when it comes to reframing concepts of LGBT, gender, race, mental illness, and religion. Anyone who has a role in creating, distributing, and telling stories at any level in the advertising and editorial industries, has the ability - and responsibility - to better represent the diverse audiences they are speaking to.
Imagine how powerful it is, especially for a young person, to see a character on screen that they can actually relate to. When Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang interviewed Lena Waithe for their new Netflix series Master of None, they hadn't envisaged the part being played by a black lesbian. So taken with Waith's audition, they rewrote the entire script. The stand-out Thanksgiving episode, where Waith's character comes out to her family, was written in part by the actor herself. This personal expression within the project created one of the show's most authentic and popular characters. "You don't want to be the face of something, you want to be the voice," said Waith.
Therein lies the real question: who are the brands re-writing the script from the inside? Those who are increasing minority representation within their ranks, among their management and in their board rooms? "This industry has the immense power to change the stereotypes, to break the stereotypes," said Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook. She's not just talking about the content we make. We have to be responsible for the whole operation, from factory too floor. Inclusivity is not just a marketing idea.
Some brands are getting it right. Channel 4's latest partnership with London in Pride sits alongside a special season of LGBT programmes. Four powerful 30" films tell the stories of four characters, each contemplating the loss of a relationship with a loved one, which has come about because they wouldn't accept them for who they are. The ads mark 50 years since Parliament first voted to start legalising homosexuality. However 50 years on, the LGBT community still faces a daily battle for equality, with 42% of Londoners falling victim to hate crime in the last 12 months.
Visit other parts of the world and the struggle is even harder. In Istanbul an increasingly conservative government has just banned a pride parade in the city, for the third year in a row. At the end of this rainbow are real people, facing real discrimination. As creatives we have the ability to give one another a voice, to persuade one another, to change one another, to motivate one another to action. Because action is what's needed. Not another rainbow coloured logo.