Ad Nut
Feb 5, 2020

When brands and agencies do transgender and non-binary people justice

Starbucks and New Zealand telco Spark restore faith that advertising can make a difference by creating empathy for people who deserve a lot of it—but get very little.

L-R: Starbucks, Spark
L-R: Starbucks, Spark

Every time Ad Nut thinks all hope may be lost for advertising (such as when watching this year's Super Bowl ads—especially the inexplicably awful one from Audi), something comes along to restore Ad Nut's wavering faith.

Today, to Ad Nut's delight, it's not one something, but two somethings: Two great films, one from Starbucks and the other from New Zealand telco Spark. Both show how it's possible, in 60 or 90 seconds, to put the viewer in the shoes of someone whose plight they might never otherwise understand. To evoke a little bit of empathy. To chip away at reflexive revulsion by showing common humanity. To maybe, just maybe, move the attitudes of viewers away from fear and hatred and toward understanding and acceptance. 

Here's 'What's your name' from Starbucks, by Iris London, production company Sweetshop and director Nicolas Jack Davies:

And here's the work for Spark and its charity partner OUTline, by Colenso BBDO, production company Finch and director Abigail Greenwood:

The Starbucks work, which launched in the UK, is apparently based on the real-life experiences of some trans individuals who gave their barista the honour of being the first person to hear their new name. The ad won Channel 4's fourth-annual Diversity in Advertising Award. The brand has also partnered with Mermaids, which supports gender-diverse children, young people and their families, to raise at least £100,000 by selling limited-edition mermaid cookies in 975 UK stores. 

The film from Spark and OUTline, a phone-support service that the brand has supported for two years, features a gender non-conforming performer known as Gabriel and also Princess. In a release, the agency cites 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. The agency also points to research that indicates adversity and life experience give members of the rainbow community strong life skills, such as emotional intelligence and resilience, which employers ought to find valuable.

Ad Nut can't and won't pick a 'winner' here. Everybody wins when the industry does work this empathetic and powerful. And anyway, making a binary choice would seem particularly wrong in this case.

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.


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