Caitlyn Jenner Embodies ‘Pivotal’ Moment in Culture and Advertising

Major brands are start­ing to fea­ture trans­gen­der men and women in their mar­ket­ing efforts, but the mar­ket still has a long way to go.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

With the unveil­ing of her Van­i­ty Fair cov­er and new iden­ti­ty, Olympian and real­i­ty TV star Cait­lyn Jen­ner has, in a way, become the poster­child for the trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ty.  And that’s in part because her tran­si­tion is arguably a water­shed moment in pop cul­ture broad­ly and for adver­tis­ing specif­i­cal­ly.


And with increased atten­tion on the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty as a whole as a result of the Supreme Court’s June 26 deci­sion on mar­riage equal­i­ty, depic­tions of trans­gen­der men and women are only expect­ed to increase in main­stream media. Not only does it pro­vide a more accu­rate por­tray­al of Amer­i­can con­sumers over­all, it also gives mar­keters an oppor­tu­ni­ty to tell more authen­tic and hon­est sto­ries.

In recent years, Amer­i­can con­sumers have cer­tain­ly seen more trans­gen­der indi­vid­u­als in main­stream media.

Advo­cate Chaz Bono, for exam­ple, appeared on ABC real­i­ty show Danc­ing with the Stars in 2011.

And then Netflix’s Orange is the New Black debuted in 2013, fea­tur­ing actress Lav­erne Cox, which was fol­lowed by Amazon’s Trans­par­ent in 2014, which is anoth­er series that includes trans­gen­der themes.

But it’s arguably Jen­ner and her upcom­ing E! series, I Am Cait, which is set to launch July 26, that real­ly mark a new chap­ter in both cul­ture and adver­tis­ing.

Accord­ing to 180LA Cre­ative Direc­tor Pierre Jan­neau, recent atten­tion to trans­gen­der issues means brands will sure­ly pick up on this top­ic and start show­ing more trans­gen­der con­sumers through “real, authen­tic, per­son­al human sto­ries.”

Whether we relate to the sub­ject or not, these are unde­ni­ably great exam­ples of deter­mi­na­tion and self-accep­tance that we all can learn from,” Jan­neau says.

But, not sur­pris­ing­ly, like any change, it will undoubt­ed­ly take time.

Now, for big­ger man­u­fac­tured broad­cast adver­tis­ing, brands will prob­a­bly be more cau­tious of show­ing trans­gen­der [con­sumers] as rep­re­sen­ta­tions of their audi­ence and soci­ety,” Jan­neau adds. “This will hap­pen at some point but it will sure­ly take more time.”

Accord­ing to Bob Witeck, pres­i­dent of PR and mar­ket­ing firm Witeck Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the trans­gen­der pop­u­la­tion has always been a chal­lenge in main­stream media in part because there are so few exam­ples.

The trans­gen­der [com­mu­ni­ty] has always been iden­ti­fied as a joke or a foil,” Witeck says. “In oth­er words, [gen­der is] con­fused or mistaken…there is a sense to deceive. It’s nev­er out of respect. It’s been more of a punch­line in years past.”

A Brief Timeline of Notable Campaigns

But that’s not to say some brands haven’t includ­ed trans­gen­der men and women in seri­ous and/or respect­ful adver­tis­ing cam­paigns.

Google+ Your Busi­ness, for exam­ple, post­ed a video about a trans­gen­der-friend­ly gym in Kansas City, Mis­souri on June 16, which has since gar­nered 1.3 mil­lion views.

High-end depart­ment store Barney’s fea­tured 17 trans­gen­der mod­els in its Spring 2014 cam­paign, Broth­ers, Sis­ters, Sons & Daugh­ters.

In Novem­ber 2014, beau­ty brand Red­ken announced trans­gen­der mod­el Lea T. was its newest “brand muse.”

And, in March 2015, John­son & Johnson’s Clean &  Clear brand post­ed a video fea­tur­ing YouTube star Jazz Jen­nings as part of its #SeeThe­Re­alMe cam­paign, which it says is “about girls hav­ing the courage to show who they real­ly are, and what makes them unique.”

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, TLC’s I Am Jazz, which the net­work says is about “trans­gen­der teen Jazz Jen­nings and her amaz­ing sup­port­ive fam­i­ly” will debut July 15.

I have a trans­gen­der son and it warms my heart to begin to see big brands embrace that this is part of our pop­u­lace and our cul­ture,” says Kirk Soud­er, CCO of cre­ative agency Enso. “For me, some of the excit­ing things I’m see­ing is it’s not just to say, ‘Here, I’m trans­gen­der. Here’s my sto­ry,’ but what I love see­ing, like the cam­paign from John­son & Johnson…is it’s using the trans­gen­der expe­ri­ence to be emblem­at­ic of some­thing we all do – which is to dare to live more authen­ti­cal­ly and hon­est­ly – as part of a larg­er cam­paign.”

And that, Soud­er says, was also reflect­ed in the Google+ video, which was very hon­est in its depic­tion of the trans­gen­der expe­ri­ence.

Even the scene of him tak­ing his shirt off and show­ing [the results of] surgery was a real­ly pow­er­ful moment between my son and me,” Soud­er says. “He could see kind of what his future laid out to a degree in a nor­mal way. Here’s this very sim­i­lar per­son who has been through a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence and the world’s look­ing at it and that’s okay.”

And he says Google’s open­ness with the sub­ject mat­ter will like­ly “[give] per­mis­sion to oth­er adver­tis­ers.”

But There’s Still a Long Way To Go…

At the same time, mar­ket­ing experts esti­mate the trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ty is prob­a­bly about a decade behind where the gay and les­bian mar­ket stands today. In fact, David Pais­ley, senior research direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ty Mar­ket­ing, which pro­vides LGBT research, mar­ket­ing insights and strate­gies, says a big focus in com­ing years will sim­ply be ensur­ing the trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ty has equal rights.

I think the trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ty and move­ment for full equal­i­ty is maybe a decade behind, but…transgender imagery and role mod­els are begin­ning to appear in ads even in cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca, but they tend to be more tar­get­ed toward the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty,” Pais­ley notes.

And Then Along Came Caitlyn

How­ev­er, Pais­ley calls Jenner’s tran­si­tion “a piv­otal moment.”

And that’s in part because Jen­ner is such a well-known fig­ure to so many con­sumers. In oth­er words, Baby Boomers know Jen­ner the Olympian and Mil­len­ni­als know Jen­ner from Keep­ing up with the Kar­dashi­ans.

Cait­lyn Jen­ner was a known per­son to Baby Boomers even — to all the gen­er­a­tions – and it’s such a big sto­ry for so many peo­ple. It’s very pos­i­tive for the move­ment,” Pais­ley says. “It’s hard not to like Bruce Jen­ner. I think for a lot of Baby Boomers who grew up with Bruce Jen­ner, it’s a real­ly impor­tant moment.”

And, he notes, it will be inter­est­ing to see if Jen­ner gets cor­po­rate spon­sors her­self.

The Status Quo in the Meantime

For now, Witeck notes many brands includ­ing trans­gen­der spokes­peo­ple are in the fash­ion and beau­ty indus­tries and include “well-known indi­vid­u­als who are high profile…and indeed look as the gen­der they say they are. It’s the safe thing to do,” he says. “Over time, there will be a deep­er hon­esty about trans­gen­der peo­ple and it will be cut in all paths of life in reflect­ing who they are as indi­vid­u­als with­out the back­drop of fash­ion and mod­el­ing. But those are the low­est risk oppor­tu­ni­ties we face and they make sense…it’s a start.”

Soud­er agrees cast­ing will even­tu­al­ly become more diverse and, as a result, more accu­rate­ly reflec­tive of the U.S. pop­u­lace.

And, again, this is par­tial­ly due to demands from Mil­len­ni­al con­sumers.

Brands hope to reach younger audi­ences and Mil­len­ni­als will look for fresh mes­sen­gers and images to do it,” Witeck says. “I’ve learned watch­ing all of these brands try to make them­selves more con­tem­po­rary – they’re try­ing to refresh their appeal, look and perceptions…and LGBT imagery and nar­ra­tives are one of the most test­ed and suc­cess­ful paths.”

And, Pais­ley notes, the bisex­u­al com­mu­ni­ty is anoth­er inter­est­ing angle that isn’t real­ly being dis­cussed.

There’s a whole oth­er ele­ment of the com­mu­ni­ty that we haven’t seen a lot from a mar­ket­ing stand­point and that may change, espe­cial­ly with our young peo­ple under 25 that are much more like­ly to [iden­ti­fy] as bisex­u­al,” Pais­ley adds.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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