Taiwan approves same-sex marriage; maybe these ads helped pave the way

Be the first to comment

Following yesterday's historic decision, we look back at brands that have embraced LGBT themes in their advertising.

Advertising rarely causes social change on its own, but it can help to move and reinforce changing attitudes. Following yesterday's decision by Taiwan's top court to allow same-sex marriage, we decided to take a look back at some marketing that may have helped in some small way.

At the very least, these brands can legitimately claim that they were on record in favor of equality before the law of the land came around. 

This ad, "Acceptance" for McCafé by Leo Burnett Taiwan, has been on the lips of many, both straight and gay, since it was launched in March last year. The client's goal was to urge people to have a "dialogue," and criticism from local religious groups did not pressure the brand to pull the ad then.

The agency, for one, maintains neutrality on the issue, saying that it does not intend to support or oppose homosexuals, as the Taiwan LGBT community remains euphoric about the court's decision yesterday.

"Our advertising just want to convey that different positions or personal values can be communicated with each other through a cup of coffee, seeking understanding," Murphy Chou, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Taiwan, told Campaign this morning.

In the McCafe story, the understanding may not be reached immediately, he said, but the feelings of unconditional love and tolerance between the father and son overshadow their differences. "Love is always able to overcome everything, is not it? Love wins," he added.

Back in September 2014, a little-known Taiwanese biscuit and pastry brand Isabelle already put its money behind a series of TVCs, one of which (below) shows a middle-aged man busying himself in the kitchen and bedroom in the morning. He's preparing workwear and breakfast for a family member who turns out to be ... another man—his same-sex partner of 29 years—who then reciprocrated his affection by dressing up his partner's finger wound.

Isabelle's "Let's Get Married" slogan may have been wishful thinking at that time, but today, it is foresight. An estimated 200 gay couples registered with the Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy group, and thousands more are now going to need wedding pastries as they throw banquets to formalize their unions. 

While it is uncommon for brands with commercial agendas to make a pro-gay stand publicly, local advocacy groups like Equal Love Taiwan have been pushing for marriage-equality rights for decades on behalf of queer individuals, described as "comrades" in Mandarin.

This past January, ads were in local print media (Apple Daily and Liberty Times) wishing Taiwanese comrades a happy Chinese New Year, with a twist. Two actors, wearing the same Gap pullover in different family reunions, weather through inquiries like "Do you have a girlfriend?" and "How come you're not married yet?" silently, while wishing that the next Chinese New Year (in 2018) will not be such a vulnerable period for comrades anymore.

Denim brand Levi's, in response to the annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Pride Month in June, launched its Pride series of shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps in advance this month, the fourth consecutive year it has offered such a lineup in Taiwan. "Fight Stigma" is this year's theme.

In Taiwan, the LGBT population is roughly 1.5 million (out of 270 million individuals in the whole of Asia), and its estimated spending power per annum as a whole is pegged at $28 billion, according to LGBT Capital, a specialist advisory serving the LGBT consumer sector. 

For marketers who are now raring to go to reach out to newly liberated LGBT consumers, take note that authenticity is the biggest challenge. LGBT couples are coveted by brands for their DINK (double-income, no kids) status. But being LGBT-friendly appeals to inclusive-minded heterosexuals as well, according to Paul Thompson, founder of LGBT Capital.

Success all comes down to whether brands can convince consumers that they truly care about this sector—rather than simply paying it lip-service.

From the perspective of a creative director who is also a gay male, Gianni Gurnani from Leo Burnett Hong Kong thinks that the LGBT consumer as a target demographic is an "oversimplification."

"We are some of the most colorful and unique people in the whole world. Any brand that hopes to reach us has to forget about what makes us different and focus on what makes all of us (meaning all of humanity) the same," said Gurnani, who also goes by his drag queen name "Gigi Giubilee."

To Gurnani, as a member of both the creative and LGBT communities, the news of marriage equality in Taiwan is like a new client brief. It is a brief to "keep making humanity better"—the only brief that "really matters," he said. 

Gigi Giubilee (Photo credit: Antoni d'Esterre)