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LGBTQIA+ acceptance and rights vary wildly between markets in Asia-Pacific, the starkness of which is thrown into the spotlight when Pride month comes along. Where progressive markets like Australia, Taiwan and New Zealand are at the forefront of LGBTQIA+ inclusion, the majority of countries in Asia either criminalise same-sex relations or provide few rights to the community. It means Pride in most countries is as much a rally for rights and acknowledgement as a celebration. Some have had their Pride celebrations taken away altogether.
Brands have the power to drive positive change by encouraging acceptance and even pushing for legal reforms, but in Asia they must balance taking a stance with political sensitivities. To avoid being accused of ‘pinkwashing’, those seeking to celebrate Pride must ensure they are supporting the community both through internal policies and external contributions, such as by aligning with charities.
To help brands navigate Pride, Campaign has spoken with agency executives based in different markets in Asia-Pacific who are in the LGBTQIA+ community and have devised successful Pride campaigns in the past, to provide crucial tips on how to be authentic and what to avoid.
Today we hear from Olivia Warren, managing director of Initiative Studio Australia. Warren identifies as a gay woman and has worked on several LGBTQIA+ campaigns in the past for Absolut and Ben & Jerry’s. Australia is an “international beacon for LGBTQIA+ Pride”, as Warren describes. As such, campaigns within the market provide a solid benchmark for what brands in APAC can aspire towards.
Campaign Asia-Pacific: In general, how do you feel about brands jumping on the Pride bandwagon? Do you find it ghettoising, that this is for many the only time they celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, or is it a positive reminder to do so?
Within the Asia-Pacific region LGBTQIA+ rights are still limited in comparision to the rest of the world. With same-sex sexual activity illegal in 22 Asian countries, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving equality within the region. As such I believe that the more brands that celebrate, advocate, and empower during Pride month only serves to increase visibility and in turn acceptance of the community within the region.
To create real change within the region and avoid just jumping on the Pride ‘bandwagon’ I firmly believe that organisations/brands need to ‘practice what they preach’ and ensure that their HR and workplace policies also embrace LGBTQIA+ rights. How they activate in the space is just as important as doing it. Not just a logo slap and association, but a more meaningful activation that contributes to positive change is what is required 100% of the time.
This ensures that they are genuine in their celebration and are helping create positive change within the region, moving the community closer to true acceptance and equality.
How do you feel about pride-themed products, is this appropriate?
To be honest these can be really hit or miss and can sometimes be borderline tacky.
To avoid a ‘rainbow wash’ it is important if brands want to pride-theme their products that they provide a direct benefit to the community.
Which has more merit: a campaign targeting discrimination and stigmas, or a campaign celebrating the community?
Both are of equal merit as the core Pride advertising should be about increasing visibility, embracing the community, and ultimately empowering the LGBTQIA+ community to speak their own truth. Speaking as a gay woman, I am moved by both campaigns that draw attention to issues still experienced by the community as well as uplifted by those that celebrate us.
If you see brands or organisations sharing the stories/experiences of their LGBTQIA+ staff during Pride, how does this make you feel? Would you be more likely to buy from a brand that has actively engaged with the LGBTQIA+ community?
I would certainly favour the brand a bit more if they actively engaged with the LGBT community. However I would also be curious about if they have a DEI policy in place to support those LGBT staff.
Can you provide examples of brands in APAC and beyond that have nailed it when celebrating Pride?
I may be a little biased as I was fortunate enough to work on the campaign, but the best example would be the Ben & Jerry’s ‘Ban Two Scoops’ campaign back in 2017. Ben & Jerry’s has had a history of showing support for marriage equality, and when Australia went through the plebiscite it was time for Ben & Jerry’s to take a stand. Partnering with The Equality Campaign, Ben & Jerry’s put their money where their mouth is and banned customers from ordering two scoops of the same ice-cream flavor in a fight for marriage equality in Australia. At all 26 stores in Australia, Ben & Jerry’s set up a postal system where customers could have their say and hand-write letters to MPs. We then delivered those letters to local MPs and pushed them to act.
Another favorite of mine would have to be the recent work from Absolut during this year’s Mardi Gras in Australia. Like Ben & Jerry’s, Absolut’s support of the community has been long-standing, and for more than 40 years Absolut has been a proud supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community. This year to mark this meaningful milestone they set out to create a Pride rally like no other.
While Australia is an international beacon for LGBTQIA+ Pride, sadly, outside of our city limits, the rainbow flag quicky fades. So, in the lead-up to Mardi Gras, we exported Pride from the glitzy Sydney to traditional country towns by taking a ‘Pride Torch’ on a relay across the nation, transforming small towns into ‘mini-Mardi Gras’. We converted local drinking holes into Pride pubs, and we partnered with LGBTQIA+ allies Pedestrian.tv to help find members of the rural LGBTQIA+ community who would be willing to boldly tell their story. In stark contrast to the Sydney parade, tradie steel-cap boots and high-vis work shirts could be seen dancing in unison with Jackie Daniels’ drag heels and sequined skirt. Finally, we normalised being queer in the country with a five-part docu-series highlighting the struggles and support LGBTQIA+ people experience in rural towns.
Unfortunately, I personally experienced hateful harassment first-hand during these activations, to the point where the local authorities had to be involved. What this taught me, is that whilst positive change has begun, we still have a long way to go. It is still just as important and meaningful for brands to continually step up and support the queer community.
Can you provide examples of brands in APAC and beyond, that have totally missed the mark when celebrating Pride?
In good conscience there is no way I would ever buy a Barilla product again and speaking as someone with an Italian mother, this is hard to do!
Back in 2013 their chairman (and owner) came out against homosexuality as it goes against the core values of the ‘common family’, and he openly opposes adoption by gay parents. Thankfully, Barilla faced huge backlash from the removal of the product on the shelves of core retailers to celebrity outrage.
Fast forward to 2018, the brand launched lesbian-themed packaging featuring two women sharing a strand of pasta (think ‘Lady and the Tramp’). To me this somewhat homoerotic packaging is disingenuous and borderline insulting, and with the chairman still in charge, clearly only a response to the backlash and declining sales as opposed to wanting to create actual change and advocacy for the community.