by Brittaney Kiefer for Campaign Magazine, May 2019
Transgender activist and model Munroe Bergdorf urged brands to be "unafraid" of embracing controversial voices who are pushing for social change.
Speaking at the Creative Equals Rise conference in London this morning, the former L'Oréal ambassador observed how more people and brands are hesitant to take a stand during this "time of recalibration", with movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter in the spotlight.
Bergdorf’s remarks were poignant given her thorny history with L'Oréal, for which she was the first transgender model to front a UK campaign. The brand fired her in 2017 after she published comments on Facebook about systemic racism that stated "all white people" were guilty of "racial violence".
The split with Bergdorf came just days after L'Oréal had signed her up for its "True Match" influencer-led campaign. L'Oréal said Bergdorf’s remarks were "at odds" with its values, but some argued that the brand acted too hastily.
Bergdorf did not address the L'Oréal incident at Rise, but she observed how the current media climate prohibits some people from speaking out on important issues.
"We’re not getting behind the voices that are pushing for change," she said. "Brands are so afraid to support voices who are saying something new or different. There’s power in embracing the radicals."
While advertisers have traditionally chosen spokespeople with the assumption that they will not say anything controversial, "we have a real chance to get behind people who are really saying something, because those are the ones who will make change", Bergdorf noted.
She continued: "I want to see more people getting behind controversial people, not those causing harm but who are pushing for change."
Many marketers are guilty of creating merely the "illusion" of diversity and inclusivity, Bergdorf said. But she urged people to examine how they can use their privilege to help others.
"In our discomfort, we have the opportunity to make real change," she said. "Don’t be afraid to get things wrong. I want to make sure we’re all unafraid in this time of recalibration."