Category Archives: human rights

Pepsi: What Were You Thinking?!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard about the catastrophic backlash Pepsi has received for their new TV and digital campaign featuring TV star and model Kendall Jenner. Created by its in-house creative team, Creators League Studio, we see Jenner on a modelling shoot who joins a protest mid-shoot. What is the protest for? I have no idea. No one knows.

Creatively, the advert is crap anyway. However, in terms of a brand ambassador, Kendall is actually the perfect candidate to reflect Pepsi’s pop culture background, which has previously featured other famous faces like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Beyonce. They could have worked with her social media influence and her fashion background to create a successful and fun campaign, but instead created a monster that has deeply offended and shocked so many people all over the world.
So how on earth did Pepsi get it so wrong? After a lot of thought since the ad was first released, here are my theories as to how this cultural tragedy unfurled:

  1. Diversity in the workplace: clearly no one of colour had any input in the narrative of this ad. Creators League Studio evidently do not have enough people of the backgrounds that they wish to represent in this ad.
  2. Work and fear culture: how the f*ck did this get approved?! How did no one at the Studio say “wait a minute, this concept seems really contrived”? Is there a culture there that makes people feel unable to stand up for what is right and wrong? I could never sit back and be part of something that I know is fundamentally wrong for humanity.
  3. Experience: without doubt, no one working on the commercial has ever been involved in a protest, experienced inequality, racial profiling, seclusion or segregation. Despite this, even if you have never experienced these things, surely you must know about it? The internet exists. History exists. There is no excuse.

The most disturbing and spoken about part of this advert is the scene were Jenner hands a Pepsi to a police officer. Firstly, this insinuates that protest can be solved by soda, which is highly insulting (the internet has gone meme-crazy on this subject). Secondly, and most importantly, this contrived scene is clearly mirroring that of the real life hero Ieshia Evans who faced police in Baton Rouge:

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Ieshia Evans was detained by law enforcement when she protested after the shooting (and death) of African American Alton Sterling near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Both prior to that incident and after that iconic photo was taken there have been countless protests in cities like Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri that occurred due to the police killing of black men. It has become an epidemic that is impossible to avoid on the news or on social media. There is no way Pepsi haven’t seen this image or heard of the protests.
Aside from the shocking claim that a can of Pepsi will create world peace, the contrast of ‘peace givers’ (Iesha and Kendall) is beyond insulting. Kendall is a white, cis, privileged, able-bodied, rich celebrity – if Pepsi wanted to create a peace-making, hero narrative they should’ve chosen an activist or a real-life hero.

DeRay McKesson, a leading activist in the Black Lives Matter movement said:

If I had carried Pepsi, I guess I never would have gotten arrested. Who knew? Pepsi, this ad is trash.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. In a world where violence and discrimination against African Americans has by no means decreased over the last century (if anything, it is getting worse), this has to be the most offensive, tone-deaf and contrived advert created during my lifetime.
What’s equally as perverse as using a real-life protest is the bizarre use of every token minority. The ad desperately tries to feature every single age, race, religion, gender, sexuality – whilst I praise diversity and inclusion in advertising, the clear attempt to show “co-existing” makes the Muslim woman and the “token-black-dude” stand out even more. It’s like they all sat at the casting couch and tried to tick off every single stereotypical type of person they could saying “yeah, she’s ethnic enough”.

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Pepsi’s exploitative brand social activism concept has been spoken about so much that according to data from Amobee Brand Intelligence, digital content engagement around Pepsi has increased to 366% in just a day, including mentions of Black Lives Matter, the use of the phrase “tone-deaf” and tagging the ad as the “worst ever.”
An incredible amount of people have spoken out against how Pepsi have exploited the enduring suffering of marginalised people, so I have no idea how Pepsi will ever come back from this. Yesterday, they removed the ad and released this apology on their website:

PURCHASE, N.Y., April 5, 2017 “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

I’m glad they have apologised, and that the ad has been removed, but I really hope this has been a huge wakeup call for advertising and marketing. I hope Pepsi get rid of their “creatives” and use ad agencies for the future. But, will anyone want to be associated with them? I guess if the price is right…
Pepsi claim that they did not intend to refer to any particular significant issues, but the notion of a protest itself is to make a stand against a social issue. So, what social were they trying to represent? All I see is cringey peace signs and random words. Trivialising protest in an age where people are desperate to see change is an insult beyond repair, in my eyes. I’ve written about jumping on the bang-wagon when it comes to social issues (such as using LGBT characters in ad narratives), and I find myself shaking my head in shame when the scenes cut to young, attractive people blatantly drinking Pepsi (got to get in that product placement) and laughing. This itself shows how the creatives involved have clearly never been involved in anything mildly political, because no one stands around posing, giggling and pouting at a protest. We even see a fist bump. A f*cking fist bump.

Allen Adamson, founder of Brand Simple Consulting said:

It’s trivializing the seriousness of the issue, that merely a can of Pepsi could solve all of the problems on the streets of our country. To some extent, it’s polarizing to the Black Lives Matter movement because it makes it seem like much ado about nothing, if you just passed some out at your demonstrations this wouldn’t happen.

Following this, something that also concerns me is the actors in the advert. Whilst it’s evident that the creatives themselves have no sense of privilege and suffering, why did the multi-cultural cast agree to take part in this ad? Did they not know the entire concept prior to filming? Were they desperate for their next big break? Did the mention of Kendall Jenner appear too appealing to turn down? It’s the same confused, cringe-worthy feeling I had when I saw African Americans defending Trump during the election. How can anyone from a marginalised group associate themselves with this?!

I could spend all day writing about what is wrong with this advert. There is nothing right about it, and if you can’t see how much of a disaster it is, you need to educate yourself and understand your own privilege. We will never move away from segregation, racism and violence if we don’t collectively stand up for what is right. This is beyond poor creative work – it’s a enormous, humiliating and derogatory kick in the teeth.

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#FreeTheFeed: Mother London

Ad Agency Mother created a Mother’s Day project for the UK’s holiday (Sunday 26th March), to make a statement against the judgement placed upon mothers who breast feed in public:

A celebration of every woman’s right to decide how and where they feed their children without feeling guilty or embarrassed about their parenting choices.

So, Mother created a giant inflatable breast and placed it on top of a building in Shoreditch on Sunday. The very detailed and very large breast boldly designed by the creative team aims to spark conversation about the attitudes towards the most natural form of feeding. Alongside the outdoor installation, Mother created a series of posters displaying the hashtag “#FreeTheFeed” and the reasons behind the project.

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I’ve always found it bizarre how people are happy to drink milk from a cow, but heaven forbid another human! This is a fantastic in-your-face, no-f*cks-given approach to a campaign, showing that social design is what we need to ignite conversations about outdated stigmas.

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Grey becomes Valenstein & Fatt

In 1917 anti-semitism was rife – having a Jewish name would do you no favours in a predominantly white, male industry like advertising. In New York, Jewish entrepreneurs Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur Fatt, set up a company called ‘Grey’ which is now one of the largest advertising networks in the world. However, they didn’t name the agency after themselves like others did, and it’s been debated whether or not Grey would have been as successful with the name ‘Valenstein & Fatt’. As sad and unfair as this seems, xenophobia was the norm, and many Jewish people around the world hid their surnames in an attempt to “fit in” with society, along with other minorities who have done the same.

Unfortunately, it seems as if this attitude towards cultural, religious and racial differences has in fact not evolved as much as you’d expect over the last 100 years – the recent election of the US President is a prime example of how common xenophobia still is, worldwide:

Fast forward to 2017: Everything has changed, and yet nothing has changed.
Too much in this world is still ugly. We know that the more diverse we are, the more powerful our ideas will be. So we will continue to celebrate difference. To break down barriers to progress and opportunity. We believe that everyone has the right to put their name above their door. Whoever you are, wherever you come from. We are Open.

Along with a prejudiced President in the USA, here in the UK ‘Article 50’ is being triggered this week, creating a final divide between the UK and Europe. With these events in mind, Grey is communicating a message of diversity and inclusion by recognising their Jewish founders, whilst hoping to create a conversation about diversity in advertising.
Unfortunately the name change will only be for 100 days, which is a shame, and almost makes this campaign seem like a bit of a gimmick… Although they claim the name change is “a mark of how far we’ve come, but how much there is still left to do”, I can’t help but feel as if it’s just a marketing ploy without any actual lasting impact or strong, dedicated message if they’re just going to change the name back.

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Valenstein & Fatt have written a manifesto about how they will lead by example:

1) We are publishing our diversity data. Progress cannot be made without clear measures and transparency about who we are today. Our new study is independent and in depth and is based on the voluntary responses of 305 individuals, which represents over 60% of the agency and reported according to standards set by the British Office of National Statistics (ONS). Research developed in partnership with PSB examines roots, identity, education and lifestyle. It will be measured and shared annually and we are encouraging other agencies to take it up as their methodology.

2) We are launching a cross industry taskforce to identify the barriers to recruitment and retention of talent among ethnic minorities. The first gathering will be chaired by CEO Leo Rayman, and we are inviting leading organisations in this space and the most progressive agencies, including Chairwoman of Mediacom, Karen Blackett, to join us in agreeing industry-wide initiatives and targets. We will also commit to targets for our advertising output, to ensure that it is nationally representative. 

3) We are launching the Valenstein & Fatt Bursary to pay a year’s rent for up to two young people from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. To qualify, candidates must have been offered a job at Grey, be state educated and live outside of Greater London. Applications are open from this summer.

4) We will inspire the next generation, by working with 100 primary and secondary schools to introduce students to a career in the creative industries. Working with Exec Head Michelle Williams and education therapist Jodie Cariss and starting with the New Wave Federation primary schools in London’s Hackney, we will offer a tailor made programme for the schools involved, from assemblies to full day workshops, coaching and agency open days.

5) We will develop our diverse talent. Recognising that recruiting people with different start points isn’t enough, 50 individuals identified as ones to watch will be matched and formally mentored by our Executive and senior leadership. In parallel we will run Community mentoring workshops open to any member of the agency who wants to participate.

That’s all fantastic, and it’s lovely to see such an influential agency speak out against prejudice, but I don’t believe they should have done this without 100% committing to a permanent name change. What’s the point otherwise?

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Spotlight: Artist James Joyce

10 days after the US election, artist James Joyce created this cover for French magazine ‘Le magazine du Monde’. The magazine itself has some fantastic covers and images on their instagram, and Joyce has also created some incredible work. Joyce’s recognisable work includes the use of a variety of media including painting, drawing, moving image and screen-printed editions. His most recognisable work being ‘Dismaland’, commissioned by Banksy, which included a video installation that then turned into the cover image for the programme.

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The style of Joyce’s work for Dismaland has translated into the cover below, following his iconic style of bright, iconic shapes and striking compositions. His work has been featured in a tone of exhibitions and curated by brands like Apple, Nike, BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times.

Joyce has perfectly encapsulated the consequences of Trump’s presidency. I think other than the composition itself, the fact that no images of Trump himself were used, yet the message is so easily translatable to all languages, speaks volumes.

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International Women’s Day: Take Your Pussy Anywhere You Want

Ad agency Invisible Man created this short video for International Women’s Day, specifically for the strike A Day Without a Woman. Arranged by those who organised the march for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., the strike is in support of the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day strike of economic equity.
The short ad states “Take your pussy anywhere you want. Just don’t take it to work” – due to the pay gap between men and women, human rights activists demonstrated March 8th as a day where women should strike from working if they aren’t going to be paid the same as their male colleagues.

This message is brought to you by a group of creative people who feel strongly that women’s rights are human rights. We believe in using our powers for good and support the efforts of every group trying to make the world a safer and more equitable place for women and girls.

P.S. We also think it’s high time women reclaim the power of a certain word for themselves.

I can’t help but see a nod towards Trump’s “grab her by the pussy” remarks, which works so well as double entendre for someone being paid less just because of what’s in between their legs.

 

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Candid Conversations: Being Black in Advertising

Advertising agency TBWA launched a cultural editorial series called ‘Backslash’ last year, curated by 200 creators from across the global network. TBWA describes Backslash as “your daily edit of cultural trends”, and all of their employees receive a daily two-minute video about a range of topics, e.g. VR in medicine and science, social media’s responsibility of their users’ mental health, drone taxis, kids and technology… the list is lengthy and diverse. The project was created with just an Instagram account and internal content for employees, but TBWA believe that the team has expanded so quickly that they are hoping to create more publicly distributed content in the future, like the one above.

Richard Stainer, chief executive of TBWA\London said:

Creating at the speed of culture requires a deep knowledge of culture, and this is what Backslash gives us. It turns TBWA into a global knowledge and creativity network.

Diversity in advertising has been an enormous topic of discussion recently, and many agencies have explored this dialogue through different projects. TBWA’s Backslash looks at black professionals working in the ad industry in the short film above, featuring employees from the Omnicom network.

Nick Barham, TBWA Worldwide chief strategy officer said:

We felt that, for Black History Month, it was important to think about African American culture as it relates to advertising. I don’t think change is happening as quickly as it should. We want to represent what people are listening to, what they’re interested in and what brands care about.

As someone who is very switched on and actively interested in diversity in all aspects of life, I surprised myself with how little I had considered the lack of black creatives in advertising. The conversations in this short film about diversity are absolutely evident and relevant. Hopefully those who had never considered the lack of black talent in advertising think differently about the way agencies embrace inclusion.
It’s important that agencies consider and discuss diversity in the workplace, rather than those who feel like the minority discussing amongst themselves. Creating content for purposes other than client projects is a great way to start a conversation about race, as it becomes more human and less like a storyline created to jump on the equality bandwagon.

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ANZ: #HoldTight

In the lead up to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and Auckland Pride Festival, ANZ bank have released a campaign specifically focusing on LGBTQI couples and their reluctance to hold hands in public. Agencies TBWA Melbourne and TBWA Auckland aimed to highlight this problem and encourage people across New Zealand and Australia, and beyond, to show their support.
The campaign is based on research commissioned by ANZ which discovered that members of the LGBTIQ community were three times more likely (39%) to feel uncomfortable holding hands in public. In Australia, they are more than twice as likely (52%) than non-LGBTI (14%) to have felt uncomfortable performing the most basic gesture of love: holding hands in public. Also, while the vast majority of New Zealanders (95%) agree that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should feel comfortable holding hands in public, less than half of the LGBTI community (39%) truly feel comfortable doing so. Similarly, in Australia, 94% of people support everyone feeling comfortable with this show of affection, but only (43%) actually say they feel very comfortable. What a sad reality, and something we all definitely take for granted.

As part of a broader social campaign, in collaboration with Twitter, a custom emoji was developed alongside the hashtag #HoldTight. The campaign launched the ad (above) accompanied by stories told by ANZ staff:

Additionally, they also developed a limited edition custom wristband (featuring the same heart-shaped emoji hands), which will light up when people hold hands. The wristbands will be worn by attendees at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and Auckland Pride Festival:

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Carolyn Bendall, head of marketing at ANZ said:

ANZ is using #HoldTight as a platform to share an important message about diversity, inclusion and respect and to help people understand the challenges that many members of the LGBTIQ community face. We hope to make a difference by encouraging the wider public to join in the conversation and show their support.

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Audi: Drive Progress

Progress is in every decision we make, every technology we invent, every vehicle we build. It’s our past, our future, our reason to exist. Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. A 2016 report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee found that women were paid 21% less than men on average.*

Audi is know for its storytelling adds, and this Super Bowl ad by Venables Bell & Partners didn’t disappoint. It’s always interesting when a brand takes a political stance, especially when it’s hard to work out whether the message is genuine or just jumping on the back on a current political issue. I like it, and I think it’s important for brands to make their political views public, so that the consumers know what they are putting their money towards.

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Advertising and Gay Men: How the Media Avoids Gay Intimacy in Advertising

One of the most beautiful and important things about working in the creative industry, whether it’s photography; graphic design; music; dance; acting; writing, is that it allows people of any background, gender, race, sexuality, age to express their opinions and beliefs in whatever medium they wish. The creative industry is at the forefront of self expression and freedom, which has always encouraged and inspired me to pursue a career in this field. Advertising in particular is, as we know, incredibly influential – whether you enjoy ads or just stare blankly during the commercial breaks – they can help convey messages to a wider audience.
Although I am part of British advertising, and we have produced some incredible and iconic work that is undoubtedly timeless, ever since I can remember having an interest in the industry I have been unable to shake off one very obvious tactic used by agencies: appearing pro-LGBT, but avoiding gay men. Obviously, showing gay couples in ads is a very recent (and important) thing, but as equality has progressed so rapidly in the last 10 years I have found myself questioning why the media prefers using lesbian characters over gay men.

Last night I watched a bizarre (but fascinating) documentary ‘For The Bible Tells Me So’, which documents the ways in which conservative Christians have exploited religious teachings and scriptures to deny LGBTQ+ rights. Without spoiling too much, one factor which stood out like a sore thumb was the fact that the parents (of gay children) being interviewed all expressed fears of having a “faggot son” (they said those exact words), even if the story ended up focusing around their lesbian daughter. There was a continual theme of obsessing over the fear of a gay son. As we all know, homophobic beliefs all stem from religion, and their target is 9 times out of 10 going to be gay men.
Why?! Well, as the husbands in these documentaries (and in most religious and/or homophobic households) have the final say on what goes, men generally have more discomfort towards gay men than lesbians. It all stems from a fear that gay men will try to have sex with them (don’t flatter yourself) or influence their sons’ ‘sexual behaviour’. It probably also relates to the fact that mentions of sexuality in the Bible only relate to men sleeping with other men. Lesbianism became publicly demonised during the Victorian era.
I have no idea why gay men seem to receive more homophobic abuse (I know, that is a sweeping statement), and this is particularly evident in the homophobic slurs used – I can name only a few related to lesbians, but gay insults based on gay men are endless. There is a fear and disgust surrounding gay sex, whereas lesbians are often used as part of the male sexual fantasy. Funnily enough, I always wonder whether these religious homophobes get off on girl-on-girl fantasies but heaven forbid two men together! Gross!

[Before I get into the advertising part of this blog, I want to say that I am by no means denying or deflecting homophobia against lesbians, nor am I insinuating that gay or queer women receive less discrimination than gay or queer men. These are merely my observations about the representation of gay men in advertising].

So what the hell does this have to do with advertising? I believe it all stems from the same place – whilst companies, agencies and brands are largely trying to be inclusive by introducing LGBT narratives, the avoidance of male couples is remarkably salient in advertising.
In the US (certain states, of course, we couldn’t have two guys in love being aired in Texas now could we) the depiction of a range of LGBT couples has been, overall, fantastic in comparison to what it was like as recently as 5 years ago. This is particularly amazing for gay men who seem to have an equal platform in terms of narrative to lesbian couples or female same-sex families. Certain states in the US are notorious for being openly pro-LGBT and have no qualms when it comes to presenting gay men in their commercials. A lovely example of this is cosmetics company Lush who recently launched a Valentines Day campaign for 2017 featuring non-heteronormative couples in their campaign. Wonderful! A gay couple are featured as a header on the US website, alongside other gay and lesbian and gender-nonconforming couples in the campaign:

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They even released a very sweet statement for the campaign:

At Lush we believe that love transcends gender. We set out to do one thing when creating our Valentine’s Day visuals, we wanted to capture love between two people and we believe that’s what we have done here. The fact that our loyal and loving fans are starting their own conversations using our visuals and #loveislove absolutely warms our hearts.

But, (and this is a big but), why on earth didn’t this transcend to the UK website for Valentines Day?! There is no mention of the LGBT campaign – no photos, no #loveislove hashtags, just a crappy photo of a heart-shaped bathbomb. This kind of contradiction and blatant picking-and-choosing of where to present certain messages makes the campaign and the company come off as inauthentic, consequently using the gay community to publicise a Valentine’s Day sale. Love is a universal experience, so why can’t Lush’s campaign be? My theory is that British ad men and women are too afraid to upset anyone. We are so apologetic and fearful of offending in the UK that it’s affecting how we stand up for what we believe in.
To reiterate, this seems to be a bizarre UK problem – as a country where gay marriage finally opened its doors to lots of British gay couples and proudly abolished Section 28, I struggle to accept that the advertising industry has moved forward in this way too. The only time I ever seem to see gay couples represented correctly in advertising is when Pride in London is being advertised!
Another very sweet Valentine’s Day campaign featuring a man proposing to his boyfriend by Hallmark has done a fantastic job at normalising gay love in a campaign with lots of other couples celebrating international the day of love:

There’s no hashtags about equality, no clickbait, no hint towards inclusivity, just a mix of normal people showing us what love means to them. Of course this was a campaign in the US! This is the third consecutive year that Hallmark features a gay or lesbian couple in their Valentine’s day ad. I’ve never seen any of those campaigns here, despite Hallmark being a retailer in the UK.

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Ok, for a moment I will stop listing the negatives, and actually praise a British brand who has defied the norms when it comes to gay male affection in marketing – Lloyds! It’s been noted that brands are failing to represent LGBT+ people in mainstream marketing campaigns, but Lloyds Bank have been praised for advancing LGBT diversity both internally and through its brand communications. Perhaps Lloyds being no.2 in Stonewall’s Top 100 LGBT Employers 2016 rankings influenced the fantastic campaign for ‘He Said Yes’, a same-sex proposal featuring two men.

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Here’s what Joey Hambidge (client account manager at Stonewall) had to say about the importance of LGBT representation in marketing:

While campaigns around Pride season are encouraging and to be applauded, consistent year-round communication with the LGBT community and featuring LGBT people within mainstream campaigns sends a strong message of inclusion and support.
Lloyds Bank springs to mind due to its recent mainstream commercial featuring a male same-sex couple’s proposal. Many young people entering the industry have grown up with an inclusive mentality. Their social circles can be mixed and varied so they are looking for companies that reflect these values. So even if someone may not identify as being LGBT themselves, finding an LGBT-inclusive employer is often important to them.

Lloyds Bank could have so easily used women in the ‘For Your Next Step’ ad, but I absolutely believe they did the right thing by using two men. Not only were they featured in the ad below, they have also been used on huge underground billboards and posters:

Lloyds Bank have actually featured same-sex couples in its advertising since 2010, and Marketing Week have written exactly why this is so important in an article here. I feel honoured to have worked with such an inclusive brand during my time at adam&eveDDB.

Unfortunately, Lloyds Bank are the exception in the UK. Whilst doing my research for this blog post I came across one of my favourite websites, Pink News, which had a news section on gay ads – hoorah! Lots of content to prove me wrong! Not quite…….. as wonderful as they all are, they’re all American. Check out the list here.
There has been cataclysmic shift in the portrayal of homosexuality in advertising, particularly when it comes to the likes of fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana producing homoerotic ads for years. This is an improvement to be noted – we’re hardly seeing any half naked, muscle bound and oiled up Adonis, instead we’re seeing gay men being portrayed in a mundane, family-orientated way, like the ads mentioned above. This still isn’t good enough – all of these campaigns (including Lynx’s ad featuring a dancing man in heels; Lynx’s “kiss the hottest girl… or the hottest guy” adTylenol’s #HowWeFamily campaign, to name a few) are American and Australian. They aren’t broadcasted on British TV, even if though sell the exact same products or services here.

Whilst we should always praise and encourage the portrayal of lesbians in advertising, as the sexualisation and fetishism of lesbians is still rife in the media, it’s difficult to ignore the blatant use of two women being more comfortable viewing than two men.
Match.com really had the chance to represent the LGBT+ community in a normal way like a lot of the ads above have done. Lots of dating apps and websites are now trying to convey a message of inclusivity – that their services are not just for straight people. As part of their campaign, Match.com decided to dedicate one spot to two girlfriends who supposedly found love through the website. I cannot help rolling my eyes and cringing every time I see the following ad on TV:

‘Messy Girl’ actually was no.3 on the top 10 complained about UK ads, because of kissing women (896 complaints). Despite the ridiculous amount of homophobic complaints, I do not respect Match.com for this campaign, and I cannot support their efforts. I find the entire narrative unnecessary – the “messy” story did not need to include lesbians undressing (with lacy lingerie on underneath… come on, really?!) where all the other spots for the same campaign are not sexualised, and instead portray the innocent, adorable and quirky aspects of dating and falling in love.
The entire ad screams male gaze, and Match have clearly spent no time researching into what it means to the LGBT community to be represented in advertising. ‘Messy Girl’? more like Messy Idea! Who wrote this sh*t?

Sainsbury’s 2016 Christmas ad saw an enormous amount of praise not just from creatives surrounding the concept and execution, but also from families in the UK – particularly same sex parents who were thrilled to see female same-sex parents along-side mixed-race families and a single dad:

Whilst successfully reflecting modern British families, I can’t help believing that two women were favoured over two men. Even though they are animated characters, lesbian women are predominantly more accepted over gay men because society still does not feel comfortable with the idea of gay male sex. You might be thinking “calm down, how on earth did you go from innocent animated characters to gay sex?” well, that’s how homophobes’ minds work – they believe the representation of same-sex parenting is damaging and has a gay-agenda. So, ASA (or whatever standards authority board) receive complaints, ads get taken down, and clients/agencies steer clear of pro-LGBT concepts for fear of offending. I can’t tell you why people think this way, but I can tell you it is still a very big and very ridiculous problem. It’s particularly concerning that very few UK brands choose to represent male couples, particularly affectionate or intimate gay couples.
I think the current discrimination epidemic seen during the US election speaks volumes in terms of how far we have to go regarding LGBT rights. From what I have seen on social media, people have (up until the election) remained naive and unaware of how discriminatory certain groups of people can be, and how manipulative they can be when working in numbers. A lot of people in this world genuinely believe gay sex is demonic, and that those showing it on TV are pushing an ‘agenda’ to turn their kids gay. These same people compare gay men (never lesbians) to pedophiles. If it wasn’t so tragic, I’d laugh.

I want to end this blog post on a positive note – the note being Thomas Cook – a UK company who have subtly flown the flag for the LGBT community in this lovely ad called ‘You Want We Do’:

Again, no hidden messages; no hashtags; no trends; no exploitation, just a bunch of different people all wanting a great holiday with the ones they love.
Jamie Queen, marketing director for Thomas Cook Group told Marketing Week:

I think marketers can always do more to represent the needs of the consumer and that’s what we’ve tried to do with the gay kiss. It comes down to the needs of our customers and addressing a modern population.

Aside from the wonderful representation of gay partners (header image) and gay dads (below), the ad itself is actually wonderfully art directed and shot.

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To conclude, what I’d like to say to creatives is, don’t be like Match.com – be like Thomas Cook – be revolutionary, be bold, be authentic. Feature gay love, feature men playing tonsil tennis, and do it with conviction. Don’t worry about the complaints, the Bible bashers and the ratings. You are the voice, and we are living in a time where your compassionate creativity is needed more than ever.

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Hollywood is Deeply Failing Those with Mental Health

A few weeks ago I was sitting at home, watching ads in the break of whatever TV show was on at the time. I found myself both saddened, cringing and wanting to change the channel – the ‘Split’ movie trailer was being aired. As someone who isn’t a fan of horror films, I’d usually never pay attention to trailers that do not interest me, however it was impossible to ignore the clear demonisation and offensive narrative created by M. Night Shyamalan.

From start to finish, James McAvoy provides a performance (an outstanding one, however) that is detrimental to those suffering from mental health, and more specifically dissociative identity disorder (DID). The character, Kevin, has obtained DID from childhood trauma, which is both a Hollywood classic and highly inaccurate assumption of the causes of DID. Most importantly is the overt and presumptive link between mental health and violence, stringed by Hitchcock in the 1960s (e.g. ‘Psycho’) but replicated in hundreds of movie plots, such as Rear Window, Betty Blue,High Tension, Fight Club, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Shining, Silence of the Lambs… the list goes on!
Why should we care about the plots in horror films? Isn’t it all clearly an over-dramatic, scripted fantasy that has no attribution to real life? Well, thousands have already signed a petition to boycott Split because “at a time when so much attention is being paid to mental illness and gender identity, we’ve reduced both conversations to a horror movie trope.” I couldn’t agree more! The film and TV industry has progressed enormously in the representation of gender, sexuality and race (although there is a very long way to go, but that’s a whole other story), but has seriously failed those with mental health problems. Despite organisations and campaigns for mental health being heard more and more in the 21st century, Hollywood has remained obsessed with narratives including schizophrenics who murder, rape and torture random victims.

Aside from the representation of DID in ‘Split’, the most common mental health condition used in horror films is schizophrenia, and characters with mental health are being depicted as more demonic and crueler than at any time in movie history, according to a report for mental health charity Time to Change.

Psychiatrist and film expert Dr Peter Byrne says:

This is omnipresent in cinema misrepresentations – the psycho killer is immortal and sadistic, motivated by madness – in almost all psychosis films, that character will kill.

The report highlights something really important – that the main source of information about mental health is from films. That is scary and highly damaging. Unfortunately, the mass media shapes people’s ideas about mental illness, and whilst British soaps contribute a lot of their story lines to mental health, the horror film directors and producers are yet to follow suit.
Little discussion of sympathy towards mental health is depicted in Hollywood horror, apart from the exception ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. In 1975, a time of little understanding or discussion of mental health, a film sympathetic to the mentally ill managed to win all five of the Academy’s top awards. Hollywood (well, some of it) took note: compassion can pay, and gave us films depicting empathy towards mental health like A Beautiful Mind, Shine, Rain Man, Adam, The Aviator, The Black Balloon, Séraphine, Keane, Away from Her and Girl, Interrupted. That being said, take those examples with a pinch of salt, as the characters were not accurately or correctly represented, but still contained sympathy rather than demonisation, which is really important.

One of my favourite films, ‘Shutter Island’, has received a mixed response from those concerned about mental health. Set in the 1950s, when psychiatry involved barbaric practices like lobotomy, electric shock and incarceration (scenes I found incredibly upsetting to watch), the film is based on a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane published in 2003. Scorsese was out to create high drama and to maximise emotional impact – but how could he do this without becoming yet another director taking advantage of mental health? Before filming, Scorsese’s intense research included appointing his own psychiatrist, Professor James Gilligan, who specialised in violent psychosis. The character Dr Cawley is actually based on Dr Gilligan, who in fact was the director of a Massachusetts prison hospital for the criminally insane (much like the one depicted in the film) in the 1970s. Dr Gilligan wanted to protect the image of psychosocial treatments, and was pleased by the historical accuracy in ‘Shutter Island’, but not so pleased with the script itself. Dr Cawley’s treatment of Teddy Daniels was highly inaccurate, as his attempts to shock Teddy out of his delusion were done by enabling him to act it out. This would never happen. Despite the highly empathic narrative and the fantastic performance by DiCaprio, Teddy is still represented as a murdering maniac. However, Dr Gilligan believes that the plot is:

a kind of metaphor for psychosocial methods of treatment as opposed to damaging the brain.

So, ‘Shutter Island’ was successful at portraying the inhumane practices in mental health hospitals, but in the end, movies are drawn to madness because it’s scary. Horror fans eat that up.

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Hollywood needs to focus less on the fear-factor and presumption of traumatic etiology in mental health, the misrepresentation of psychologists themselves, and more on the authentic experiences those with bipolar disorder, DID, schizophrenia etc. experience. Hollywood has a responsibility to steer away from harmful stigmas about mental illness.

Here’s a list of films that have been praised for avoiding the sensationalism of mental health narratives:

Silver Linings Playbook
Clean, Shaven
The Hours
A Beautiful Mind
Christine

Have a watch! And next time you want to spend your hard earned money on a horror flick, think about what kind of industry you are supporting. Mental health is so common, you will undoubtedly have a friend or family member who suffers and/or has been diagnosed. By supporting films like ‘Split’, you are halting the progression of destigmatising mental health, and that deeply effects people like me.

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