Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | It’s time brands did more for the LGBTQ+ community

In its new advertisement for India, American online home-sharing firm Airbnb features two young women, a couple, who are travelling across the world with comfortable Airbnb stays. The commercial has been launched during the Pride Month in June observed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community across the globe every year to celebrate sexual diversity and protest discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.

Varun Raina, marketing head of Airbnb India says the objective of the campaign was to narrate stories of real travellers and celebrate the uniqueness of life and the concept of non-conformity. The women in the ad are a couple like any other, he says. “Our intent was to simply focus on their relationship and individualistic choices while opting for travel experiences as a couple, rather than their sexual identity. We strongly believe that Airbnb can play a purposeful part in many lives… More than just an enabler of travel, Airbnb is a community that thrives on the idea of individuality and acceptance; and diversity is a mere by-product of this belief," he adds. To be sure, Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India last year.

Besides Airbnb, online food delivery firm Zomato, too, added a feature to its app last month. The tag—visible on individual restaurant pages—identifies if a place is LGBTQ+ friendly. The Times of India newspaper, too, has launched a campaign for the LGBTQ+ community. Its brand director Sanjeev Bhargava says that the idea of the “Out and Proud" campaign is to provide a platform for not only the members of the LGBTQ+ community but also for their friends and family to express their desires and aspirations. “And this we are doing through our free classified columns," he says.

It’s high time that brands in India started acknowledging the social legitimacy of the LGBTQ+ community. “These are still early days, and I don’t expect too many mass brands targeting this community. But leading brands in India should definitely help begin the process of mainstreaming the community instead of consigning them to the fringes," says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. He believes that segmenting the market by age, gender, race, religion, socio-economic parameters or any other demographics is a valid marketing strategy, and, as long as it is not discriminatory, it should not be considered unethical. “Therefore, there’s no reason why the market should not be segmented on the basis of sexual orientation. It is difficult to ascertain the size of this segment, as most Indian LGBTQ+ citizens have not come out of the closet yet, but going by global averages, the segment undoubtedly represents large numbers, and definitely many times higher than the 2-3 million as per the official government estimate," he adds. Sinha cites the example of Absolut Vodka which consciously aligned the brand with the LGBTQ+ community in the West in the 1980s. The move paid rich dividends making vodka the drink of choice among LGBTQ+ partygoers for a couple of reasons: First, the LGBTQ+ community had a disproportionate representation in the art, music and fashion world with many iconic personalities wielding considerable influence among their cohorts and beyond. This helped Absolut Vodka acquire an arty vibe, something that has remained the mainstay of the brand campaigns since. Second, because of the long history of persecution, the LGBTQ+ community was more tightly knit than the average population, which also helped the brand go viral more quickly.

GroupM’s digital agency The Glitch has also worked on several campaigns that address the LGBTQ+ community for brands like Closeup, Netflix and, more recently, dating app OkCupid. Pooja Jauhari, CEO at The Glitch says that while it is a slow start, increasingly, it finds that brands are willing to do the right thing. However, Sanjay Sarma, founder of boutique branding agency SSARMA Consults, says a brand jumping into cause marketing without really sustaining it through actions on the ground, doesn’t work. “Most brands do it to look good, make the right noises, win a few advertising awards, or just in the hope of going viral with their communication," he says. They need to do more and integrate them into the mainstream workforce. That can make them an important consumer segment like everyone else, he adds.

“What they deserve is social justice and equal economic opportunity where they can be gainfully employed, start an enterprise, freely rent homes, stay at hotels, eat at restaurants and mingle with the society without fear. That is what brands should strive to do," he says. And not make a very big deal about it in the process.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Postwill look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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