Media Cheers Caitlyn, But Will Ad Biz Embrace Transgender Trend?

The court of media opinion concerning Caitlyn Jenner’s transgender transformation has spoken. And the media’s verdict is: We’re OK with that.

But what about the court that is always a better measuring tool for the acceptance or rejection of social change – the court of economic opinion, as expressed in advertising and marketing?

Caitlyn made a splash Wednesday night on ESPN’s “ESPY Awards” telecast on ABC – drawing added viewers and attention that this awards show might not have attracted if not for Jenner’s scheduled appearance as the recipient of the ESPYs’ annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

The big moment came in the telecast’s third hour, between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. Eastern. Viewership peaked during that particular quarter-hour, according to the Nielsen overnights, as Caitlyn advocated for acceptance of transgender lifestyles in the hopes that others who are wracked with confusion over their gender identities might live peaceful lives without fear of persecution. Her speech concerned itself especially with the plight of transgender adolescents who are bullied or, worse, violently attacked and/or attempt suicide (some successfully).



Few would argue that a situation in which a teen would be driven to suicide should be remedied. Maybe the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner as a spokesperson promoting greater understanding of transgender issues will help make life more livable for these people. Jenner’s advocacy might even save lives, and any sane person should applaud that.

But will Jenner’s coming-out be enough to usher transgendered people into the mainstream of American life? One barometer of that will be advertising and marketing, since it’s so important for the advertising business to stay in step with demographic trends (whether or not such efforts are successful).

Advertisers and marketers are undoubtedly scratching their heads now over this “inclusion” issue: Do you include transgendered people when producing imagery – commercials, promotional videos, bus and highway billboards – that is meant to represent a wide swath of society? The most prominent of these efforts are TV commercials that feature montages designed to show the broad variety of family life in contemporary America.

The operative – and flexible – word here is “broad.” How “broad” do you go when depicting contemporary family life? It was not until relatively recently that families with same-sex parents were seen in such contexts. And while they’re being included more frequently today than they used to be, their inclusion is not wide-spread in the imagery of advertising, despite the nation’s apparent turn toward acceptance of same-sex marriages and, by extension, same-sex parenting.

Multi-racial families are featured more prominently in advertising these days, as are single-parent families – both male and female. In including these domestic varieties, the advertising business understands that these people are our neighbors. They live next-door or down the street. Our kids go to school with their kids, take the same dance lessons and play on the same little league baseball teams.

But what about the man next door who wears a dress? Is he going to turn up on TV commercials any time soon in montages of “typical” suburban life, as he gives a wave to his neighbors on a sunny morning as he ushers his children into a minivan for soccer practice? The advertising industry has to ask the question: At what point does the ordinary person say to himself or herself: “So Bob the next-door neighbor likes to wear dresses and call himself Roberta … It’s a free country … Far be it from me to judge him…”?

That’s the kind of thing people will say publicly – i.e. out loud. You saw that on social media Wednesday night and into Thursday, as Jenner was cheered on Twitter and Facebook.

But what about how they might really feel? The challenge for advertisers and marketers would seem to be: Will the inclusion of transgendered people prove to be a boon or a hindrance in a piece of advertising? Will an advertiser that includes transgender imagery be cheered, like Caitlyn Jenner, for its “bravery” in including a group of people seen by many, up until recently, as a “fringe” community, as opposed to a mainstream one? Or will such an advertiser find that “typical” consumers aren’t really as accepting of transgenderism (if that is even a word) as they might seem to be.

Or, to put it another way, people who might outwardly effect a live-and-let-live attitude about transgender lifestyles might not really feel the same way in the private recesses of their hearts and minds.

Caitlyn Jenner herself will likely be among the first to learn the reality of the situation as her reality series “I Am Cait” starts up on E! and she branches into other areas of enterprise such as fashion. Once upon a time, Bruce Jenner was one of America’s most popular commercial spokespeople. Whether or not Caitlyn Jenner can achieve the same status remains an open question.

1 comment about "Media Cheers Caitlyn, But Will Ad Biz Embrace Transgender Trend?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 16, 2015 at 11:50 a.m.

    It might help if she wasn't guilty of vehicular homicide.

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