“If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” These are the now famous words of drag queen, entertainer and businessman Rupaul, used to sign off every episode of his hugely popular television show ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race.’
The world of drag queens is now a multi-million dollar industry, with some drag queens such as Bianca del Rio now selling out venues as large as SSE Wembley Arena. Hence, there is a rich opportunity to expand this industry through digital marketing collaboration with brands, as well as the incorporation of “drag values” into creative marketing strategies.
The Drag Empire
Crossdressing has played a role in the entertainment industry dating back to the days of Shakespeare, where men would have to dress as female characters due to a restrictive society not allowing women to perform on stage. The use of drag and crossdressers as comic relief in plays and film has also been around for a long time. However, the modern drag queen is now considered a dignified art form and has expanded from being a minor queer role, in a play or an entertainment show in a nightclub, to boasting Oscar-recognised actors and world-touring performers.
Drag entertainment content reaches across many different mediums and platforms, including: comedy; dance; drama; music; make-up; motivational speech; lifestyle; and fashion. Although a lot of the boom in the drag industry can be accredited to the aforementioned television show, ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race,’ which premiered in 2009 and has since grown to become a ratings success. The appeal of this show broke many preconceptions about the drag industry by claiming an enormous heterosexual female audience and being hugely popular in the millennial market (which some estimates say will soon have spending power of over $1.4 trillion USD).
The presence of drag queens on social media is also profound, with some of the more successful drag queens such as Adore Delano gaining over 2 million followers on Instagram. Live videos, Reddit Q&A’s, and Periscope videos from these drag personalities attract thousands of viewers, and Youtube content can become viral. The stigma of drag being somewhat of a seedy nightclub practice has been almost eradicated and some celebrities and world leaders are now opening up to drag media as a sign of inclusivity and even promoting drag values.
Values of a Drag Queen
Drag promotes itself as a way of breaking societal norms and exploring one’s inner self. Rupaul has been quoted as saying, “You know, the matrix says, ‘Pick an identity and stick with it. Because I want to sell you some beer and shampoo and I need you to stick with what you are so I’ll know how to market it to you.’ Drag is the opposite. Drag says, ‘Identity is a joke.”
A consistent theme across drag content is individuality and creativity triumphing over conformity and normality. Mexican-American drag queen, Valentina, has become a celebrity figure in Mexico due to her proud incorporation of Mexican culture into her drag content. Her career has been an example of how an artist can incorporate two very different cultures and break all sorts of stereotypes to become a successful icon in both cultures.
These individualistic and proud drag values are a useful insight into the success of drag entertainment in a society that is consistently evolving to be more inclusive and understanding of what it means to be different. Digital marketing operates predominantly online, where much of this social change is generating from, and so it can be an asset to advertisers to adopt these principles and include itself in the progress of permitting its audience to become proud of being different.
Drag and Digital Marketing: A Collaborative Opportunity?
One of the most important evolutions in marketing has been the increase in creative and dynamic marketing campaigns. The process of selling a product has now become a creative endeavour in it’s own right. This open-mindedness allows marketers to explore new strategies and opportunities.
Pink marketing or LGBT marketing has huge pulling power, as is evident by the inclusion by businesses of LGBT-themed advertising during Pride seasons across various countries. Estimates put LGBT buying power or the “Pink Dollar” or “Pink Pound” at over $900 billion USD annually. Matching this with the influence of drag entertainment in the LGBT community, as well as it’s millennial and female appeal, shows that there are profound gains to be made by digital agencies to expand into this market.
The expansion, however, should be genuine and authentic, with the economic intention at least being equalled by the enthusiastic intention to be inclusive.
Where some companies may have the intention of being inclusive by utilising LGBT flags in their advertising campaigns, this token effort must be reinforced by concrete collaboration and inclusion of more than just symbols.
There is the potential for drag queens to become the new ambassadors of make-up brands, or the new faces of social media campaigns. Popular drag house music could be used for soundtracks for commercials, or drag fashion could be incorporated into a billboard campaign. Drawing in the millions of followers of individual drag queens will be an enormous asset to a future marketing campaign, and collaboration during the production process when forming these campaigns can help with new and exciting creative concepts.
Incorporating “drag values” such as breaking societal norms and playing with identity and individuality can also help digital marketers break the mould of mainstream advertising, and open themselves to possibilities of inventing new ways of representing a brand or business. A brand that may market itself a certain way could potentially benefit from a marketing campaign playing with its own identity.
An example of this is Toyota’s marketing campaign to sell it’s new Aygo vehicle, which included drag queens designing their own photo shoots. It was a multi-platform campaign with physical visual advertising, social media advertising and short documentary-style clips released. The idea behind the campaign was expressing individuality by selecting one of the most colourful and characterful cars on the market.
The Future is Young, and Colourful
Digital marketing has a responsibility to adapt to its market and move with the waves of society. Millennials are shaping the online media world and that world is much more open-minded and inclusive. The opportunities to collaborate and tap into the drag market will be economically beneficial and socially empathetic. Corporate social apathy won’t be a successful model in these changing times, and so adapting, including and learning from different groups will build progress and success.