C4 study calls for more ‘positive, creative and thoughtful’ portrayals of transgender people

C4 study calls for more ‘positive, creative and thoughtful’ portrayals of transgender people
E45's campaign with Channel 4's Diversity in Advertising Award.

Representation of transgender people in advertising is “lacking overall”, and when included is “commonly sensationalised”, according to new research.

Channel 4’s latest wave of its five-year Mirror On the Industry research concluded only one in 10 transgender people felt brands supported their community.

This was often related to a fear of backlash making brands “reluctant” to showcase transgender talent “at a time when it’s needed most”.

The study also isolated other obstacles to widening transgender representation such as divisive rhetoric in the public discourse, a lack of first-hand conversation with transgender people and a lack of education and awareness of transgender issues, challenges and lived experiences, including joy, self-acceptance, support and community.

Previous Mirror On research from 2023 found transgender or non-binary people featured in less than 1% of of 1,000 ads examined.

There were mixed perceptions of progress in representation in the 2023 quantitative survey, with 44% saying representation of transgender people had improved in recent years, and 30% believing it had not improved.

Three ways for brands to improve

The report made three suggestions for brands to improve awareness of transgender issues and “normalise the representation of transgender people”.

These included: hiring more transgender talent for on-screen advertising roles, making transgender identity of transgender talent secondary to the narrative of the ad to explore other facets of their lives, and avoiding depictions of transgender people as “a single, homogenous group”.

Samantha Cannons, research manager at Channel 4, emphasised there was a need to see “more ads with positive, creative and thoughtful portrayals of transgender people” to shift perceptions and connect brands with transgender people in a way that has not been possible so far.

She said: “Our research is clear on why the need to normalise transgender visibility on screen is so important.

“Levels of LGBTQIA+ representation in advertising have been low and stagnant since 2019 (3%), and run the risk of going further backwards if steps aren’t taken to tackle the reluctance of brands to address this.”

E45 spotlighting transgender experiences

The research was used by E45 and WPP-backed agency T&Pm to inform its latest campaign using £1m airtime prize won in the Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award.

The brief for this year’s Diversity In Advertising Award was to focus on a misrepresented part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the skincare brand spotlighted experiences of transgender, non-binary and gender diverse people, which can change unexpectedly when transitioning or exploring individual gender expression in “This is ME45”.

The 60-second ad premiered on Gogglebox and featured trans women doing their daily skin routines and launched on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

The campaign ran from 17 May to 30 June across TV, video-on-demand, and Channel 4’s YouTube channel, as well as other C4 programmes First Dates and Joe Lycett: More, More, More! How Do You Lycett?

Channel 4’s study was based on three stages of research with The Diversity Standards Collective which comprised a targeted survey of 50 transgender people, an in-depth consumer focus group with three transgender people, and an in-depth professional focus group with transgender media industry professionals.

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