Beyond the rainbow flag
At Ketchum, we talk a lot about the importance of imagery. How the staging, casting or cropping of a single image can influence the entire story it tells. We strive to show a range of people in the work that we do, to reflect the diverse society we live in and to be true to the consumers and stakeholders who we ultimately make this work for. It’s not about “virtue signalling”, but rather helping brands reflect the values of the people that work for them.
In the past few years we’ve seen the widespread adoption of Pride month by almost all western organisations. A more cynical take might be that June has been co-opted by brands chasing the “pink dollar”. But I think it’s brilliant. At least by changing a logo to a rainbow, companies inadvertently make themselves accountable to their employees and customers for the rights they uphold (or don’t).
In saying that, I am a bit bored of corporate messages accompanied by an image of a same-sex couple covered in rainbows. There’s so much more to queerness! Even the word “queer” (which is one of the ways I identify) is up for debate and makes many of my older friends and colleagues cringe. People are multi-faceted an intersectional, so of course this topic is too.
If you’re interested in broadening the diversity of imagery you use, here is my hot take on ways to celebrate our communities this month, and all year round.
Couples doing non-sexy things
‘L for Lesbian’ and ‘G for Gay’ are rooted in sexuality, but are just the first two letters of the alphabet soup of identities celebrated at pride. ‘T for Transgender’ has nothing to do with sexual preference, and ‘A for Asexual’ indicates a preference for no sex at all. There are also not nearly enough representations of queer couples whose gender identities are different from one another (eg. a bisexual man and woman).
The rainbow flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 as a symbol of liberation, and since then many alternate flags have been designed to include and celebrate different communities. One such flag incorporates yellow, white, purple and black to represent those whose gender identity does not fit within the male/female binary. After a conversation between Ginny Lemon and Bimini Bon Boulash (two non-binary contestants on Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK this year), the colour yellow has been further solidified as representing this community. It’s such a joyful colour, and going to be showing up in a big way this summer (thanks Lorde), so if it’s already in your brand colour palette then it might be time to embrace the non-binary!
Pride is a protest, not just a parade. Even today in societies where you can buy rainbow bagels there are real hardships for those who are out. This includes teenagers having to hide their sexuality during the pandemic to survive in their parents’ homes and women facing violence because of their mis-assigned gender at birth. Particularly if you’re looking at doing purpose-based work for Pride, have a chat to your colleagues in these communities and find an authentic role to play in the ongoing struggles.
Finally, if you’ve already shot an ad with two men dressed in leather, making out under the rainbow flag… don’t let me stop you using it! We need all the visibility we can get, but perhaps this will help you think about what more you can do next time.