HONG KONG - HSBC is standing firm in its decision to display rainbow-festooned versions of its iconic lions despite protests from a loud minority that gained mainstream media coverage after calling the display "disgusting".
HSBC’s pride-themed replicas of the lions were unveiled at the HSBC Main Building Plaza in Hong Kong’s Central district last week. Grey Group Hong Kong worked with HSBC on the project.
What began as part of the banking giant’s “Celebrate Pride, Celebrate Unity” initiative spiralled into a headline-grabbing backlash from several groups in the city, who accused the bank of "trampling on family values".
HSBC has stood firm in its decision to display the rainbow lions until the end of the month. When contacted by Campaign Asia-Pacific, a spokesperson said the initiative to promote diversity is receiving overwhelming support from the public, but noted that the protests received more attention in mainstream-media reports.
Responses on HSBC’s Facebook page have been mixed. For example, one supportive comment said the rainbow lions and display of rainbow lights would help the community become more progressive. Meanwhile, a negative commenter said the bank has emasculated the symbolic image of the lions.
Anne Costello, regional director of Text100 said brands should always fall back on their values when supporting any causes.
"As a brand, you should act in a way which is authentic with your values and be aware of any risks that might have and be prepared with a crisis plan," she said. "And, if something is considered controversial, then you need to go into any action with your eyes and ears open, knowing that not everyone will be happy all of the time."
HSBC’s LGBT initiative is reflective of the changing times. Many brands are embracing diversity, in inclusive workplace policies and in marketing strategies that cater especially to same-sex couples. But Hong Kong appears to be a rather difficult ground for diversity advocates. Earlier in September, Hong Kong University faced resistance for a plan to introduce all-gender washrooms on its campus, for example.
Marion McDonald, APAC chief strategy officer with Ogilvy Public Relations, applauded HSBC for what she said was a firm and fair stance. Hong Kong is driven by business, and therefore it falls on corporations and brands to advance the LGBT cause since the government is still lacking leadership on LGBT equality, she said.
"There is a moral and economic imperative to drive LGBT diversity and inclusion for brands," she said. "Brands cannot afford to shy away from favourable consumer attitudes to LGBT equality in the face of the vocal minority objecting to HSBC. They risk alienating customers, losing talent, investors and other stakeholders."
Citing a report released by the HK Anti Discrimination commissioner which showed 92 percent of millennials in favour of the need to legislate for LGBT equality, McDonald said more brands are "coming out of the closet" to support LGBT diversity and inclusion. The agency itself launched Ogilvy Pride, a network for LGBT employees in Hong Kong earlier this year.
"I believe HSBC's celebration of LGBT pride and unity is fully in line with HK community attitudes and those of its customers and employees," she said. "The Pride Lions are a clever art display that fits with their brand and makes an inclusive point without causing any visual offence."
Meanwhile, across the region, Japan and Taiwan are among the more progressive societies for brands to come on board LGBT causes. Same-sex couples flying Japan Airlines are able to share mileage programme benefits, while Shiseido, Johnson & Johnson and Gap are the main sponsors for Out in Japan, a photography project featuring LGBT people.