Mario Campana is a Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Management and has been at the University of Bristol since 2021. His research is focussed on consumer research and consumer culture theory specifically. His research programme is partly centred on diversity and inclusion, focusing on LGBTQ+ themes. We spoke to Mario about his recent work on RuPaul’s Drag Race and its place within LGBTQ+ brand history.
What is the main motivation behind your research areas?
I started my PhD in a different area of research, looking at alternative economies. I think it was something like 2012, 2013, and I just came across RuPaul’s Drag Race. I got hooked to the point that I nearly stopped finishing my PhD! I watched all the series that were out there, and I kept watching it again and again and again!
I hadn’t been to any drag shows before watching Drag Race. So, I really entered this world more socially rather than on any research perspective. What I really found interesting were the stories that they were telling on the show – the experience of being excluded, of being the outcast in school, of growing up at the margins. I found that these stories were resonating with me, and with other people within the LGBTQ+ community.
I found myself at a party, where two people were talking who were not LGBTQ+ and they were watching Drag Race as well, and these stories were also resonating with them! I found this interesting because when you look at the literature in Marketing, it says that the things that are for LGBTQ+ people are only for LGBTQ+ people, right?
So, how could Drag Race have achieved mainstream success, despite carrying the LGBTQ+ stigma? We are in a period where there is more, I would not say acceptance, because different letters in the spectrum are facing very different challenges, but at least a bit more legal legitimation of LGBTQ+ people. And while the challenges are still steep, you have this show that showcases drag queens and normalises them.
So, this is where the project started from. But as I started my research, other things came up too. I am now looking at, with other colleagues, the academic literature in marketing on LGBTQ+ people as consumers. We are trying to map the literature and look at underrepresented consumer segments. For example, transgender men and women or transgender people in general, who almost disappear when it comes to these studies, which are normally focused on white gay men in the Western Hemisphere.
Has Pride itself taken a similar route to Drag Race in becoming a mainstream brand?
I am an advocate of Pride as a protest, I think that’s the function of Pride, rather than having a parade of corporate sponsorships. Effectively, as they became a brand, they also become more commercialized. I think Pride is a bit of a crossroad in terms of what it represents. Pride really has to reconfigure what they stand for.
Will you be celebrating Bristol Pride this year?
So, I’m not sure I’ll be in Bristol for the march, but I celebrate Pride in general. You have to celebrate Pride if you can. Despite its identity crisis, Pride needs to be celebrated. The creation of visibility is always important.
Has the response to your research themes changed since you started looking into them and if so, how?
When we started the research, we were basically trying to show a case of a brand that was becoming mainstream, and we saw that there was more to it than that. So, we integrated this idea of stigma, and spectacles and trying to create visibility around this, the theme of the research has shifted since the beginning.
In terms of participants that we interviewed, it’s quite interesting to see. I thought that my experience with Drag Race was a shared experience, but then as we started to interview, we started seeing that this story really resonates with people that have had hardships in their lives. So, people that had less hardships, they somehow see less in the show.
Do you see a difference in responses to Drag Race, across different demographics?
Yes, there are the very young people! Though we don’t yet have many of them in our research interviews. We have people more or less my age, that went through being in the closet when they were younger, that hardship there. And we’ve interviewed older people, who have been through the same thing, but they’re also really attracted to this fabulousness of drag queens!
Another aspect is that I was very surprised how drag queens are cultural in the UK. A lot of older people, even non-LGBTQ+ people, have been to drag shows. They will watch RuPaul because they are familiar with drag shows. This gives them something in common with the younger demographic.
Who has been your favourite drag queen on the show?
Hands down Bianca Del Rio! But I have to say in the UK, Tia Kofi.
A big thank you to Mario for giving up his time to talk to us. If you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.