Labels; the good, the bad and the ugly

Julian Tooke, Global Head of CCS, Dentsu Aegis Network

Labels, at their worst, can be used to degrade, exclude and destroy the ‘other’. The ‘other’ being those who are different; those who are not you. Those with whom you feel no common thread of humanity.

Labels are central to what we do in the media business. They are fundamental to target definitions and are the currency of audience trading. Every day we describe our audiences by their demographics, their lifestyles, attitudes and behaviours and then package them up using terms such as most valuable consumer, responsive audience or buying audience. We have assumed a heady responsibility; we analyse, taxonomise and target groups so we can influence, persuade and sell to them. When we do that well, we engage with them, move them, entertain them and give them the products, brands and experiences that they want. When we do that exceptionally well, we are ‘people based’. We speak to them as individuals as well as members of a group. We recognise their individuality as well as their group identity. We work on insights not stereotypes.

Being labelled can be a curse or a blessing (or both). Arguably, gay people didn’t exist as a definable group until 1869 when Karl Kertbeny, the German thinker, labelled them as homosexual. Freud then refined the label by creating the concept of the ‘invert’ and his scale of bisexuality. Oscar Wilde brought the label to mass attention by taking on the gay mantle shamelessly during his famous trial. Pathologisation was the precursor to the modern LGBT rights movement. It then took millions of LGBT people, one by one, to courageously seize ownership of the label by ‘coming out’ and turn a deeply negative label into a positive one. Brave individuals did this over many decades despite often being very isolated and in hostile environments.

I am proud that I am co-chairing &PROUD, DAN’s LGBT+ Network. I am proud, as part of the steering committee, that we together with our allies and brand champions are working to ensure that labels and identities never separate or diminish us but rather strengthen us collectively, individually and as a commercial business.

Anything else would be bad and ugly.

To celebrate #PrideMonth, we will be live streaming &PROUD’s ‘Goal! LGBT + People in Sport’ talk from Dentsu Aegis HQ on 5th July. Click here for more information.

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