Campaign: Kill the Binary

By Rachel Lowenstein, Associate Director, Strategic Innovation, Invention+, Mindshare North America

Media operates in binaries. Publishers’ media kits are divided up in men/women. Brands usually brief us on wanting to reach one of two genders. And occasionally marketers will ideate on how to reach the LGBTQIA community as a single collective audience.

This has worked just fine in the past, because media was reacting to a culture of hetero and cis-normativity where you’re male or female, straight or gay, and those were the only options served to us. But operating media in binaries is problematic; both on a philosophical level and a business one. Your audience of non-binary, intersex, genderqueer, and genderfluid individuals exist, they matter, and they also increasingly have buying power across the spectrum.

It’s not just some “trend” born out of the Tumblr generation: gender variant people have been ingrained in human history, dating back thousands of years in many cultures. And today, a third of Gen-Z says that gender doesn’t define them as much as it used to. Less than half (44%) say that they always buy clothes specific to their gender (54% for Millennials).

But for how visible genderfluid and queer people are becoming in culture, I’m struck at our industry’s lack of movement to recognize the seismic shift happening in how we communicate with a society that cares less and less about gender in how they act, look, dress, or talk. Yes, it’s true that you’re seeing some representation in creative. Jaden Smith was the model for Louis Vuitton’s women’s RTW campaign in 2016. Violet Chachki, in full, glorious, drag, is featured in the latest Prada campaign for women. James Charles was the first male CoverGirl spokesperson. The list goes on (some good examples of brand allyship, others, that need no mention, are disastrous).

But has the brand, media or data, non-consumer facing side of the industry reconciled with the idea of “how do we reach audiences who don’t identify as masculine or feminine”? What does media mean in the slow, inevitable death of masculinity vs. femininity? What happens if you kill the binary?

Like most provocations these days, I find the answer lies in the drag community, whose entire existence celebrates being whatever it is you want to be – gender or not.

As both a fan of local drag and of the cultural sensation RuPaul’s Drag Race, I was one of 40,000+ people attending DragCon in New York recently. More than just a commercial success (with $8 million in revenue from the showroom floor, it’s a massively lucrative event), the three-day event is both a celebration of the once subculture of queer artistry and a physical space that demands attendees live the truth that both gender and sexuality do exist on a scale. Gender identity there is at once irrelevant and totally dominating.

For more insights, including Rachel’s advice on the implications for targeting, read the full piece in Campaign.