"Great brands don’t just reflect safe and accepted norms; they dare to set agendas in culture at large."
The above statement made by Ed Booty, chief strategy officer for Publicis Communications APAC (in connection with one of the ads presented below), reflects an admirable goal. While most people in this industry would agree with the lofty premise, if we're honest, we can admit that such work is rare. Work that truly dares to enter into uncomfortable territory is too seldom attempted, and even more rarely pulled off.
Yet one need not look far for evidence that ads have the power to incite controversy and therefore lead to discussion that ultimately changes minds. For example, witness how just last week, a bunch of bigots got their undergarments all in a twist over a Ritz Crackers campaign showing a couple that didn't conform to the cis-gendered, heterosexual 'norm'.
Yes, the struggle for affirmation and inclusion and equitable treatment of people across any number of facets of individuality is real. But so is the industry's power to help. So in hopes of encouraging that kind of work, we present a collection of some of our favourite ads from APAC markets that have in recent years—in the context of the market and time of their release—made strong statements for empathy, acceptance and celebration of diverse humanity.
The best films (including ads) can, in a matter of seconds, put you into another person's shoes in a way that's unequaled by any other form of communication. And this spot from 2017 remains one of the best examples. It forces hetero viewers to live inside an awkward moment that they probably never thought about, but that gay couples are all too familiar with. And if you can leave that moment without a sense of pain and outrage that people have to go through so much angst over such an innocuous—but important—show of affection, then nothing is going to reach you.
Bonus: Check out some of ANZ's other strong work in this area.
- Stop spreading homophobic slurs already, challenges ANZ
- ANZ sends signs of LGBTIQ+ support across Australia
- ANZ comes out with 'GAYTMs' for Sydney gay and lesbian event
'The future isn't waiting'
This one's barely a week old, but it's sure to get mentioned whenever lists like this one are compiled, and it's a shoe-in for our soon-to-be-compiled list of 2020's best ads as well. The controversy it sparked is all the evidence you need that Nike and W+K really pushed into that 'uncomfortable' territory to say something important. Discrimination based on skin colour remains taboo yet commonplace in many markets across APAC, and we'd like to see more work taking it on.
'Touch of care'
With the possible exception of The Sixth Sense, the late reveal has never been used to such great effect as it was in this 2017 film about a loving mother who happens to be a transgender person. As our pal Ad Nut wrote at the time, the ad makes it impossible to deny that "if someone is caring and has their shit together and is willing to take on the enormous, terrifying task of raising a child, who the hell cares about the particulars of that person's gender identity? What matters is that a child who needs love, gets love. The. End."
Bonus: See these other fine pieces of work from the same brand platform:
- Vicks brings 'Touch of care' to Philippines
- Vicks brings 'touch of care' to HIV-positive kids
- 'One in a Million' by Publicis Singapore
'Para ping pong table'
Japan Para Table Tennis Association
Simple changes in shape convey the challenge athletes with disabilities have to overcome in order to compete. This brilliant campaign, which included actual events, is another excellent example of creating instant empathy.
'Sunyi Bersuara' ('Silent voice')
This brand new campaign from Indonesia strives to show that a day at work for a deaf employee is not much different from anyone else's. The brand also worked with creative agency &Friends on releasing a sign-language font and encouraging other brands to use it for their logos in a show of solidarity and support for equal job opportunities for disabled communities. More than 65 companies quickly signed a commitment on www.sunyibersuara.id. We always like action along with ads, so kudos.
'Sindoor Khela: No conditions apply'
Times of India
FCB Ulka India
This highly-awarded campaign started a conversation about why a festival supposedly dedicated to celebrating the universal power of women was not open to many women. Wading into religious issues is inherently risky, but the Times approached the task with a forthright and charming tone that succeeded in advancing the cause without causing an explosion.
You might argue that a film about an overseas domestic worker doesn't really belong in a list about diversity and inclusion, but please watch this film and think about how poorly regarded such workers are—and how little you actually know about their lives. Sure, they're making an economic 'choice' to work overseas and be away from their families, but in my book that makes them no less deserving of empathy than any other grouping that's based on an inherent characteristic like sexual orientation or skin tone. This somewhat heartbreaking ad for dishwashing liquid tried to change that, and it works even though it veers toward melodrama.
'Break down barriers'
This coming-out story involving Facebook made an impression back in 2016 when it was released, and remains impactful even today in many cultures where being yourself in front of one's parents is still a traumatic prospect.
Bonus: McDonald's and Leo Burnett Taiwan put forth this equally memorable film along the same lines just a few months earlier than the one above:
'Spark Pride 2020'
This film from NZ telco Spark and OUTline, a phone-support service that the brand supports, features a gender non-conforming performer known as Gabriel, aka Princess. The agency cited research showing that unemployment in New Zealand among transgender and non-binary people is more than double that in the general population, while more than a quarter of respondents suspect their gender expression or appearance makes it harder to get work.
'Breaking the silence' and 'The Bassment'
In these two just-released videos, Grab presents the experiences of a driver named Joey Kow and a set of brothers running a restaurant. Released for The International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, the films let the people in question speak in their own words, and we like that Grab backs up its support for the cause with practical help and real opportunties.
'The party bus'
With uncommon visual impact, this dreamlike story, we wrote at the time, helped cement Shiseido's reputation as one of the most innovative advertisers in Japan. It's notable as a rare example of a Japanese brand speaking to the LGBTQIA+ community directly in a piece of advertising.
'คนพิเศษ' ('Special person')
Autistic Thai Foundation
Mental disability of any form remains a cause of shame for many in Asia, and a reason for treating people as 'less than' for many others. This remarkably paced film took the time to, as we wrote at the time, get across a message that is not simple to deliver. The four-minute running time gives the camera time to linger on each child and present the various truths about what it means to be autistic in a measured way. And perhaps that gives the viewer time to question their assumptions and prejudices.
WHEN THINGS GET NORMALISED
While the work cited above explicitly promotes diversity and inclusion, our favourite kind of inclusion is the kind that happens when something becomes so normalised that it's presented without comment. That's when we know the Overton window has moved. Here's some recent examples of ads that just happened to show people doing regular people things—but it's people that wouldn't have been shown that way just a few years ago.