Even in the most progressive markets in Asia-Pacific, the LGBTQIA+ community continues to battle with inequity and deeply ingrained intolerances, leading to disproportionately high rates of mental illness and suicide. 'There is still a long way to go' has been the resounding message we have heard from every member of the community that we have interviewed in the past year as part of our ongoing LGBTQIA+ coverage.
Brands wield significant power over public discourse and even law. They can spotlight specific issues that continue to plague diverse communities, normalise their appearance within advertisements, and drive awareness of critical resources. They can advocate for acceptance in the public, for change in the legal system, and for confidence in the community. There are plenty of examples of brands that have established true allyship with the LGBTQIA+ community.
But we have also heard that many brands continue to co-opt Pride as a PR exercise, 'rainbow-washing' their logos without investing in the community through internal policies or external contributions.
To help brands navigate Pride, Campaign Asia-Pacific 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 Melina Fiolitakis, the senior art director at FCB Auckland. Fiolitakis has worked on several campaigns to aid the LGBTQIA+ community, including a recent campaign for NZ AIDS Foundation, in which drag personal trainers invited people to ‘fight discrimination with perspiration’ as part of the foundation's ‘Sweat with Pride’ initiative. She also worked on a fun campaign for Durex and the NZ AIDS Foundation, called ‘Better Safe than Syphy’, to raise awareness of the resurgence of Syphilis, which is largely affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. It may seem jarring to have 'fun' and 'sexually transmitted infection' in the same sentence, but this is part of Fiolitakis' belief that brands don't have to choose between celebrating and supporting the community, and targeting discrimination and stigma. "Why not do both?" she asks. Fiolitakis identifies as a lesbian, so Pride is a cause "very close to my glittery little heart".
Campaign Asia-Pacific: Brands are increasingly being called out for aligning with festivals or events without having policies in place to support the movements, from the Black Lives Matter movement to International Women’s Day. If a brand wants to celebrate Pride, what steps would you recommend they take to avoid being accused of pinkwashing?
Pride is really fun, who wouldn’t want to be involved?! But it shouldn’t be a PR exercise to make the company look good—you need to actually care about the cause and want to make a difference. Make sure you have something to back up the claim that you support Pride. What is your company actually doing to support the community? And at its heart, Pride is about human rights, so if your company has a history of inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, or has ties to anti-LGBTIQ+ organisations—you need to fix that first.
When devising a Pride marketing strategy, what are the steps you take to ensure authenticity and success?
Involve a range of people from the community. Employ them on your team, consult them, feature them in the work, and be willing to learn from their perspectives. Through the process, be willing to adapt the strategy as you go to ensure it is authentic and supportive. Your strategy should be backed up with real commitment to the cause, whether that’s donating to local organisations that improve the lives of the rainbow community, fostering a diverse workforce within your own organisation, a long-term commitment to supporting and celebrating the community through your marketing so it isn’t just a one off. All these things will make your strategy more meaningful, and the community will trust you more in return.
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?
It’s not a bad thing in the sense that it normalises supporting Pride and encourages more brands to do so. But it’s not enough to update your brand’s Facebook profile picture to have a rainbow in it. This doesn’t mean much on its own. It needs to be backed up with action. Things like engaging with community initiatives. Representing the community in your work. Contributing time, effort or resources to rainbow organisations. And providing a safe environment for your own rainbow employees. That way you’re actually making a difference to people’s lives.
How do you feel about Pride-themed products, is this appropriate?
It depends who’s making them, and where the proceeds are going. Pride isn’t something to be capitalised on, it’s a celebration born out of a history of struggle and discrimination. So unless the product is giving back to the community, maybe think twice.
Which has more merit: a campaign targeting discrimination and stigmas, or a campaign celebrating the community?
Targeting discrimination and stigma is important, especially when you consider the impact it’s had, and is still having, on the rainbow community in 2021. For example, in New Zealand we have disproportionately high rates of mental illness and suicide among the LGBTIQIA+ community. We’ve come a long way, but still have so far to go. If you make a campaign targeting discrimination and stigma that educates people and changes their minds, you’re changing people’s lives. But celebrating and supporting the community is great too. Why not do both?
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?
Happy! It’s always positive to see an organisation with rainbow staff who feel safe bringing their whole selves to work. It should be the norm though—nobody should have to hide who they are in the workplace, or anywhere. Personally, it would make me hold a brand in higher esteem, provided the engagement was meaningful and based in a genuine, long-term commitment to understanding, supporting and celebrating the community.
Can you provide examples of brands in APAC and beyond that have nailed it when celebrating Pride?
ANZ’s long-term commitment to supporting Pride springs to mind. I still remember the #holdtight TVC from 2017. I was on my own journey of coming out at the time, and it really got me. They took something as simple as being scared to hold hands in public, and made a whole ad about that. It was like saying to the rainbow community ‘we see you, and we understand your struggle’. While also giving those outside of the community some insight into how hard it is to be LGBTIQ+ every day. For me, ANZ is a great example of how a brand can celebrate Pride in fun and positive ways (the GAYTMs for example) while also showing a deeper understanding of the discrimination and stigma faced by the community, and a commitment to changing that.
Can you provide examples of brands in APAC and beyond, that have totally missed the mark when celebrating Pride?
I won’t name names. But any brand that has tried to celebrate Pride with genuine intent is making a positive step in the right direction. It’s important to remember that it’s a journey and we’re all learning. If you miss the mark, educate yourself, own up to it, and commit to doing better. The community will respect you for that.
How would you say the Pride movement has evolved across APAC in recent years?
I’ll just speak about New Zealand here. Acceptance and visibility have progressed a lot in recent years. The representation that you see in advertising/TV/film nowadays is something I would have loved to see when I was younger, and it gives me hope for young queer people today. But there is still a long way to go in supporting our most vulnerable. The fact that conversion therapy still happens, or that our cities have a lack of safe spaces for the community, or that health outcomes are worse for LGBTIQIA+ people—all shows that we need to keep going. The great thing is that as an industry, we have a lot of power to push this change forward.
Check out our other LGBTQIA+ coverage:
The ingredients of a perfect Pride campaign
Pride month: How can brands avoid pinkwashing?
How to create an LGBTQIA+ friendly workforce
A Vietnam perspective: Culture and working life as an LGBTQIA+ person in the industry
A Malaysia perspective: Culture and working life as an LGBTQIA+ person in the industry
A Japan perspective: Culture and working life as a LGBTQIA+ person in the industry
What's it like working in the industry as an LGBTQIA+ person?