Mark Runacus on the Brand Makeover Awards, Pride AM and more LGBT+ inclusive content

Recently I was lucky enough to sit down with the wonderful Mark Runacus, Planning Partner at Wax/On and President of Pride AM. After attending the fantastic Pride AM Brand Makeover Awards in 2018, I was really keen to learn more about Pride AM and to find out about the motivations behind the organisation and the plans for the future.

On attending the Brand Makeover Awards it made me think about my own experiences of LGBT+ content throughout my formative years. Other than the recent River Island #ThisIsFamily campaign or the 2017 Coca-Cola ad, in which a brother and sister are swooning over the talk dark and handsome pool boy, racing to give him a refreshing drink, (only to be beaten by their mum!) I couldn’t think of another example. There are more general popular culture examples that I could recall, such as laughing away to Graham Norton’s chat show or being obviously enamored with Will whilst watching Will and Grace re-runs. However, in terms of advertising content, I was stumped.

I am clearly not the only one. When discussing this with Mark he turned my attention to a recent YouGov. survey

  • 66% of people in the YouGov. report agreed that there aren’t enough LGBT+ people shown in ad campaigns and 54% agreed that they might have come out sooner if brands had shown LGBT+ content
  • One of the key aspects of the YouGov. survey that should be a wake up call to all brands is that 56% of 18-25 year olds answered that they didn’t identify as 100% straight. If brands want to reach this audience, they need to think about not omitting relevant or engaging content for a majority of people within this age demographic

  • Another important point that Mark and I discussed, was the importance of focusing diversity and inclusion across all intersections of LGBT+ spectrum. This is highlighted in the survey, with 60% of lesbian/bisexual women thinking that they are less visible than gay/bisexual men in the public eye.

The impact of these stats cannot be overlooked. As part of my history degree I focused my dissertation on the importance of advertising in the creation and dissemination of ideas about society and the world. As we know, advertising is a deeply imbedded part of our culture and the campaigns that we see every day make up part of the fabric of our society and the way in which we experience every day, now more than ever. With advertising being intrinsic to the way in which we view and interpret the world, it is so important that everyone is fairly represented.

With my newfound curiosity to find out more, I approached Mark to learn more about his thoughts and first hand industry experience of LGBT+ content.

What was the motivation behind setting up the organisation and what did you want to achieve?

In 2016, when the organisation was initially set up, there was no presence actively lobbying to ensure that the LGBT+ community was represented fairly in advertising. There was no voice within the industry, therefore this was the first objective and still is. The organisation was also set up to ensure that everyone across the industry works in a prejudice free environment across all diversity and inclusion pillars and making sure that these intersections have parity in their representation. The organisation was also set up for promoting LGBT+ role models within the advertising and marketing sector and providing support for people working within the advertising and marketing workplace.

Did you expect PrideAM to take off in the way that it has?  

The response has been humbling and gratifying. Pride AM is an organisation run by volunteers and all of the hard work and generosity of those involved has really paid off. This hard work and generosity was highlighted by the success of the Brand Makeover. In only the second year, thanks to the support of amazing organisations such as Google and Gay Times, Pride AM was able to offer up to £500,000 of media spend shared amongst the fantastic winners and runners up. The top prize was taken home by Raw London, who created an amazing re-imagination of a Teenage Cancer Trust Advert for Mermaids UK, the support agency for gender diverse and transgender young people and their families. Check out all of the submissions here.

Do you think that some brands & their partners are scared to focus on LGBT+ content for their campaigns in case of any backlash?

Yes. There is still so much fear around the potential for negative backlash in response to a campaign. We need to remove that fear, the primary reason that ideas fall at the first hurdle is because agencies and brands are scared of the response. Removing the barrier and removing the fear is what we want to do. One of the main purposes of PrideAM is to inform and teach brands how to create this LGBT+ content, that’s why we put together Outvertising, a practical guide with advice for creating positive LGBT+ content and developing campaigns in paid advertising for mainstream audiences.

In your opinion, are there any brands that are currently doing it right and any that could do better?  

There are lots of brands doing it right. Anything is progress. If putting a rainbow sticker in a shop window encourages someone to embrace who they are or to embrace the LGBT+ community, this is a positive step.

In terms of who is doing it right and who could do more, once again, we can look at the facts. The statistics from the National representative sample survey show us that there is a general feeling that the Health and Beauty sector are at the forefront of LGBT+ inclusive content. Many of these brands have put out some amazing content and have taken some really brave steps with some of their campaigns. On the other end of the spectrum, the statistics show that consumers feel that the automotive industry and DIY retail has the least LGBT+ inclusive content.

One campaign that stands out as a highlight featuring LGBT+ content was the Rowse Honey ‘The Three Bears’ series of adverts; taking a whole new hilarious approach to the Goldilocks classic. If you haven’t seen it, you really must give it a watch.

What do you have in store for the year ahead and what is your vision for the next few years?

One of the biggest things happening over the next year is the putting together of  Outvertising 2.

This time we’ll be bringing together far more UK case studies and personal experiences case histories. It will include a compilation of case studies from people across the industry, and chapters regarding important ROI information on LGBT+ content. We’d also love to do the Brand Makeover again, get more brands involved, reach more people and persuade more brands to create more LGBT+ content.

Finally do you have any advice for brands when it comes to LGBT+ inclusive content within their campaigns?

The main thing would be to not be scared and that there is no need to go from zero to hero overnight.  Remember not to expect to please everyone and you should not let any fear limit bravery and creativity.

If brands are scared, remember that consumers will respond to well informed bravery, that’s the fundamental of the advice we give. Don’t embark if you’re not prepared to take a long hard look and be confident internally that you have a healthy inclusive environment across all pillars. The first place to start is with LGBT+ colleagues, tell them what you’re thinking of running and see what they think. Create an LGBT+ network to stay informed and for support, use them as internal market research.

They will, in turn, become strong advocates for your campaign, in the unlikely event of something going wrong, you have a ready-made audience of support. It’s so important as well to not back track on your work - use your advocates and stand firm.

Authenticity is the most important part of any LGBT+ work and the best way to make sure it’s as authentic as possible is to develop it in collaboration with the LGBT+ community and colleagues. 

If we really want proof of results, we need a measurement tool. In America, there’s something called the GLAAD survey, which looks at the levels of LGBT+ content across media. There is nothing like this in the UK and that is something that needs to be addressed, so we can measure our progress as an industry.

Thank you Mark :)

I am really looking forward to seeing what there is to come with Pride AM and to see the emergence of more LGBT+ inclusive advertising. We are already seeing massive developments, with Karmarama launching their own LGBT+ network Pridearama- exactly the kind of forward thinking and inclusive developments organisations need.

Pride AM is a network of volunteers. They hold a variety of fantastic events so check out their website for what’s coming up and watch this space for the organisation to come on leaps and bounds and spearhead the way for increased LGBT+ inclusion and discussion. If you want more info about Pride AM, check them out here.


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