Even though it may be quite hard to feel this most of the time, we are moving towards a more inclusive world. I don’t just say this because we now have Pride marches everywhere or even because of the increasing number of celebrities coming out of the closet (although, these are important in their own right). But if we look around, we’ll find that across the world, there have been progressive policy changes involving the LGBTQ community. Even India, which has a very regressive attitude towards homosexuality, seems to be making attempts at a more diverse society, by recognising the third gender and transgender rights.
These changing attitudes have both been helped along as well as taken advantage of by pop culture, media houses and brands across the world.
Ever notice how during the Pride month, brands begin to roll out LGBTQ-targeted ad campaigns? (Think: rainbow french fry boxes at McDonalds that definitely did not make its way to India.) More and more major companies have been trying to ramp up their own practices to try and become truly inclusive, instead of merely painting on the mask of an ally. Business strategists suggest that this is because the changing social and political climate has made it safer for brands to do this.
Of course, many people feel that such moves only serve to tell the LGBTQ community, “You weren’t important to us before when it was risky but now, when it’s safe, we’re willing to support you guys.”
Last year, Ana-Isabel Nölke, a doctoral researcher at The University of Edinburgh put together a video that both celebrated and chastised LGBT portrayals in advertising from 2009 to 2015. She pointed out the rather stereotypical and problematic representation of the community in ads that claimed to have made an effort to be more inclusive. For instance, only portraying stylish, lean, smart, gay men, or domestic, white femmes or drag queens don’t necessarily translate into true representation of the community.
Of course, no battle is won in a single day. Maybe, we should accept the changing landscape, and acknowledge that we are moving towards a world where it is a little easier to come out, and it is a little less unusual to see a homosexual couple on screen. So we decided to take a look at some of the best ads that have run this year that have done its small part towards inclusivity:
#BetterTogether, Lush Cosmetics
Lush cosmetics has become one of the most popular bath and beauty brands across the world for its handmade cosmetics made from fresh fruits, vegetables, essential oils and safe synthetics, without animal ingredients. Over the years, the brand has unapologetically stood up for causes it believes in, such as the Pride campaign. Back in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Lush launched an LGBT acceptance campaign featuring their “Gay is Okay” soap.
“The fact that a simple soap can become illegal in some countries just because it says #GayIsOK is a working example of the discrimination and lack of human rights faced by LGBT people in some countries,” reads their website.
For their 2017 Valentine’s Day campaign, Lush put together a campaign, titled #BetterTogether, which depicted two same-sex couples simply relaxing in warm, bubbly baths. They were grinning, cuddling, and making makeshift bubble beards. What made the ad particularly endearing was the normalcy of the depicted situations: just a couple taking a bath together! There was no sensationalism or dramatisation, there were no splashy press releasees saying, “Look at all of these LGBTQ couples in our new campaign!” — because a similar photoshoot with a straight couple wouldn’t have called for it either. The company even tweeted the photo of the two women to show its support for the Women’s March.
#HoldTight, ANZ Bank:
For many people out there, something as innocent as holding their loved one’s hand is a privilege they might not always get to enjoy. Stares and judgmental glares can unnerve anyone. This ad from the Australian bank ANZ, made in support of Australia’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, urges people in queer relationships to #HoldTight during those awkward times.
“When you feel like letting go, #HoldTight,” the ad reads. Considering that Australia has yet to legalise same-sex marriage, this message is obviously encouraging to the many queer couples who are simply trying to make it through their daily lives.
Valentine’s Day With Real Couples, Myntra:
This is probably not one of the greatest ads out there. In fact, I didn’t even know of the existence of this clip until I did some research for this article. Myntra shot the ad as a Valentine’s Day promotional video, with four real life couples, including a gay couple. The couples range from young and old, married and unmarried, gay and straight, who talk about their relationships. The couples are tested on how well they know each other, based on the wishlist of products that each person prepares for their partner.
Pool Boy, Coke:
This is an ad that needs no introduction because it went viral soon after it released. It was picked up by publications across the world, lauding it for its rather humorous approach to inclusivity. The ad features no dialogue, other than the Italian lyrics to “Come Prima,” and keeps you at the edge of your seat till the very end. Of course, it received its fair share of opponent, but it’s an ad one can simply not forget. So, job well done!
If you haven’t already watched this ad, it can only be because you were hibernating. It received huge acclaim across India for being one of the first ads in the country to portray an unconventional idea of motherhood. Inspired by the true life of Gauri Sawant (who played herself in the ad), it portrays the musings of her child who cannot fathom why her mummy does not enjoy the basic rights that everyone else seems to enjoy. Even today, she is not legally allowed to adopt a child, but she continues to raise her daughter, in the hope that one day the world around her will be more accepting.
Keep some tissues handy, before you click play.
“There’s no one right way to do it all,” says Shea, a grad student and transgender woman featured in an advertisement from BabyDove. The ad featured moms who are breakdancers or cattle ranchers, who are trying to raise their child in their own way. Shea introduces herself to viewers by sharing the troublesome questions they face, when people ask how a transgender woman can be a mother. Apart from being one of the first instances of an ad that features a trans person who became a parent after transition, its overall theme, as one of the other moms in the ad says, “Do what fits your family. And trust yourself,” – and this makes it one of the best ads of the year.
#UberStories, Uber, Philippines:
Uber has been a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and has been very open about the support it provides GLAAD, Family Equality Council, the LA LGBT Center, and Out & Equal—organisations they chose after polling the opinions of the LGBTQ community. However, Uber has not been spared from anti-LGBT complaints. For instance, there have been cases of Uber drivers allegedly kicking out passengers for being LGBT and the company not protecting LGBT drivers who alleged discrimination.
However, the spot, which debuted in the Philippines on April 17, seems to be an attempt to salvage their reputation and reinstate their solidarity with the community. The ad is based on a real series of tweets by an Uber rider AJ Tabangay, who realized the guy he was sharing an UberPool with was someone he’s been pining over for years. The spot ends with the tagline “Because sometimes, it’s more than just a ride. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for.”
World’s Apart, Heineken:
There is no doubt that we live in a deeply divided world, with each end of the debate refusing to see the other side. People from opposing sides rarely get to meet each other outside of social media which happens to be one of the most contentious arenas. Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” was a social experiment, where they brought together complete strangers with opposing opinions. They were not told what the experiment entailed, and were simply asked to converse. At the end, they are given a choice: to go, or “stay and discuss your differences over a beer”.
The two-minute long ad seems to be Heineken’s way of telling Pepsi, “Here, hold our beer, as we show you how it’s done.” For those who don’t remember, earlier this year, Pepsi tried to tap into this same idea and ended up falling on its face. The company’s tone-deaf ad – which used Black Lives Matter iconography and Kendall Jenner to suggest that carbonated beverages can heal America’s wounds – inspired such a seething backlash it was pulled almost instantly. Just a few weeks later, Heineken came up with this ad that truly gets to the heart of political engagement in a straightforward way that makes Pepsi’s self-congratulatory ad seem even more embarrassing.
Parenting is hard, especially if it is your first (I checked in with my sister, and she agrees). It doesn’t matter who you are, because babies don’t come with a handbook. All the What To Expect… books won’t prepare you for real life.
The 30-second clip focuses on just that. It opens with two men taking their son for his first haircut at a barbershop. As all new parents do, they freak out over the small things. “Do you have rubber tips for those scissors because they look very sharp,” one father asks the barber. “Watch his ears,” after which they try to take selfies with the rather exasperated barber. This ad is pushed to a whole new level of adorable as it cuts to when they have a second son and they proceed to cut off his bangs with a bowl on his head. The progression of parenthood!
Equal Love, Absolut:
The ad was interpreted by many as “more about hedonism than equality,” but the makers have expressed that they viewed “the act of kissing multiple people is a metaphor for the diversity of freedom and self-expression and for an equal world. We’ve designed this campaign to celebrate – free from judgement – equality, freedom and self-expression, all things that we believe are perfectly encapsulated in a kiss.”
It is absolutely refreshing to see the changing attitudes, and more inclusive approach taken up by brands and advertising agencies, which is a testament to the fact that we are evolving into a more tolerant society. But the fact that India saw only two LGBTQ-inclusive ads this whole year is a reminder of the fact that we still have a long way to go.