OUT IN ADVERTISING
Lara Kingsbeer is campaigning for change
Following on from a successful competition with DIVA last year, Prideam, the world’s first LGBT+ organisation for people working in the advertising industry, is launching a new brand make-over challenge. We spoke to native New Zealander Lara Kingsbeer, an advertising account manager and member of Prideam, to find out why diversity is still sorely lacking in the ad industry.
DIVA: Hi Lara! Tell us a bit about you and your background.
LARA KINGSBEER: I’m just another Kiwi in London in search of a good soy flat white. I moved over to this side of the world last year and travelled for a few months before settling in London. I happily identify as a lipstick lesbian and am on the look out for other “L” friends in the advertising industry.
How did you get into advertising?
I studied creative advertising back in NZ and was lucky enough to get into an agency straight out of university.
You’ve said the LGBT community is “pretty much invisible” in advertising. How does that affect you, personally and professionally?
When I started my first job in advertising in 2014, I still identified as a straight woman. Regardless of my internal questioning around my sexuality at the time, I was definitely not as aware as I should have been of the ridiculous lack of representation of minorities within advertising (both inside and outside of the ads). It wasn’t until I came out at work that I started to really notice how straight and white our briefs were.
I couldn’t recall ever seeing any lesbian presence in the ads I was surrounded by and there wasn’t a huge gay presence at my agency. Personally, this made me feel like being a gay woman in advertising was a bit like being a unicorn (do they even exist?) and I quickly sought out the one other unicorn at my workplace for guidance. Professionally, this drove me to encourage my clients to represent their target audiences correctly, minorities and all. Our dollars are worth just as much as everyone else’s, so why are we still invisible in advertising?
How does that culture affect the kind of campaigns that are created?
I think we’re rather guilty of creating
ads that reflect the people who make them, and the majority of people in this industry are straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, white people. We need to be more self- critical and take responsibility as creative facilitators for encouraging our clients to represent a wider variety of people and not just those they sit next to in the office. I have no doubt that if we had a more diverse group of people working within the industry, we would see this reflected in the ads.
Why do you think advertising still has such a diversity problem?
I wish there was a simple answer to that. It’s something we’re all very aware of and slowly but surely the industry is starting to become a bit more diverse, but it’s just not happening fast enough. Nevertheless, I do believe that the “Mad Men” days are coming to an end and I’ve been lucky enough to work under some incredible, strong women – that probably wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.
Have you come up against overt discrimination in the workplace?
I get called “dude” a lot by my male colleagues but I must admit, I don’t really mind that. All in all, I’ve been lucky with the quality of people I’ve worked with thus far.
Did you ever have doubts about being out as a lesbian?
I haven’t had any doubts about being out since I came out to my family. Personally, I think that your general happiness is intrinsically linked to being able to be your authentic self. It makes me really sad that over 60% of LGBT+ graduates are going back into the closet when first entering the workforce. This is why there really needs to be more of an emphasis for workplaces to foster a supportive and open-minded environment that allows people to feel that they can bring their authentic selves to work, if they choose to.
Do you bring your own experience as a gay woman into the campaigns you work on?
I can only try. Since joining Prideam, I’m far more aware of the statistics around LGBT+ representation within advertising and there has been more than the odd occasion where I’ve whipped these out in briefings or morning coffee chats to try and persuade people to see things in a different light. My recent favourite is that a 2014 study proved that including LGBT+ people in your campaigns does not alienate heterosexual men and actually makes your brand more attractive to heterosexual women. That’s always a goodie to have up your sleeve, but of course I’d love to get to a place where I don’t need to go in “armed” with such facts.
What is Prideam and why is being involved so important to you?
Prideam is the world’s first LGBT+ organisation for people working in the industry and aims to remove LGBT+ prejudice from the workplace. We provide support and information for all LGBT+ people and advocate fair and accurate representation of LGBT+ people in communications. As I mentioned earlier, being a gay woman in advertising feels a bit like being a unicorn – a rare sighting – and we don’t get much air-time. I was lucky enough to have a lesbian role-model in my first agency which made the “corporate come- out” a little less intimidating. Being involved in Prideam, I hope I can be that role model to someone else out there. We’re initiating change by encouraging clients, agencies and brands to commit to LGBT+ diversity in advertising and marketing through the likes of our Pride Brand Makeover challenge and comms and events within our Prideam membership scheme – sign up online!
How important is it to have inclusive and diverse advertising that avoids tokenism?
I can’t really emphasise enough how important it is. If our industry does not reflect our society, how can we hope to identify and connect with it? But even with 50% of 18-25-year- olds identifying as “not 100% heterosexual”, it’s still rare to see accurate (or any) representation of the LGBT+ community in advertising. Of course, there are many other underrepresented minorities within marketing but we are now starting to see brands making strides in the right direction, with campaigns such as Maltesers “Look At The Light Side”, which launched during the 2016 Paralympics. The TV commercials ( TVCS) included a few people with disabilities, but that didn’t make them ads centred around disability. It just gave another group more or less airbrushed out of advertising some visibility. And commercially, this step paid off big time, with Mars UK revealing that the campaign proved to be the most effective advertising for the brand in the last decade. Reflecting society pays off.
Are there any other advertising campaigns, LGBT or otherwise, that particularly stand out to you as an example of good practice?
My favourite ad to date is from the Wells Fargo “Learning Sign Language” campaign, which included a lesbian couple as a part of a series of TVCS showing how the bank could help people achieve their dreams, with the tagline: “Together we’ll go far.” This particular couple were adopting a deaf child and it showed the hours, determination and effort that the parents put into learning sign language to communicate with their daughter. It could have easily featured a heterosexual couple but the bank chose to include a lesbian couple. That’s what we’re ultimately striving for; to be visible, to be included. What made this an effective and authentic move by Wells Fargo was that this wasn’t just a superficial casting move, but reflected the organisation’s diversity strategy and core ethos.
If you could rework a classic advert to be inclusive and diverse, what would it be and how would you do it?
A campaign we’ve discussed wanting to remake at Prideam is Apple’s Think Different campaign – “Here’s To The Crazy Ones”. The spot itself is still wonderful, but how great would it be to see a campaign applauding all of the incredible LGBT+ people that have changed the world? People like Alan Turing, Ellen Degeneres, Sally Ride and Christine Jorgensen. Our community is rarely celebrated or referred to as heroes and yet there are so many of us and so many before us that have paved the way, not just for the LGBT+ community but for society. I’d like to see a campaign that honours these people.
Find out more about Prideam’s brand makeover at prideam.org. MEET LARA KINGSBEER, AN OUT LESBIAN AMONG THE MAD MEN OF THE AD WORLD INTERVIEW
CARRIE LYELL “If the advertising industry does not reflect our society, how can we hope to connect with it?”