Last year, on the 6th of September to be precise, our social timelines were awash with Pride colours. On that day, the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality by partially striking down the colonial era provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Within seconds of the news break, brands like Google, Zomato, Durex, Flipkart, Uber, Closeup, Axe, Lakmé, and many more unleashed their rainbow-coloured creatives to show their support. In a previous story in Brand Equity, a spokesperson for Hindustan Unilever, the maker of Axe and Lakme, pointed out, “It was the perfect context to connect with millennial and Gen Z consumers who were the most vocal on various platforms.” That Brand Equity story was about the silence that followed the initial euphoria around the Supreme Court judgement. Since that week when brands attempted to join the “conversation” or hijack the news moment with their pre-packaged posts, there’s been barely any noteworthy work from brands that otherwise churn out mission-led campaigns by the dozen. Causes like the issues faced by India’s LGBTQIA+ community just weren’t top order for many big brands.
But that changed two weeks ago when The Times of India launched ‘Times Out & Proud’, a hard to miss campaign for several reasons. First, the cause it adopts. And second, in a meta-marketing move, the brand campaign uses one of the oldest forms of advertising – the classified section in newspapers. ‘Times Out and Proud’ classifieds is a dedicated space for the LGBTQIA+ community to place ads and announcements. The ad space is free for the first three months of the campaign and, for now, the service is available in just metro editions of the daily.
As a part of the campaign, the brand released an online film featuring a couple celebrating an anniversary, a coming-out announcement, an accommodation request, and a marriage proposal. Full-page ads appeared in newspapers on the morning of the campaign’s launch that gave readers a glimpse of these stories.
In this round of BE Streetview, we get three consumers to share their reactions to the campaign along with an expert take and voices from the makers of the campaign.
Consumer Snap Take
29-year-old Pooja Awasthi Mishra works with a major MNC on various social projects. Mishra thinks that there is an absolute dearth of awareness about what one can do to support the LGBTQIA+ community. “The campaign seems like a well-crafted and honest initiative that might at least ensure people wake up to these diverse stories every day. It gives people a platform to share their stories, question stereotypes, seek equal opportunities and gain mainstream inclusivity. It will amplify voices.” Mishra believes the brand should also scale up the initiative editorially.
Long time coming
Aniruddha Pathak, a finance professional, noticed the campaign on the day of its launch. Pathak was impressed by the progressive tone of the initiative. He believes, as people shed their bigoted attitudes, this campaign is a good reflection of the times we live in. Pathak says, “I hope other media houses also open up their platforms to everyone. Also, TOI can scale this up by reaching the LGBTQIA+ community via on-ground initiatives.”
Light up the Net
The first time Ali Nawaz Thaver saw the campaign video was when BE reached out to him to get his views. (Clearly, he missed the morning paper.) The twenty-something freelance video editor was moved after watching the film. People should never be afraid of their identities, he tells us, “be comfortable in your own skin.” Thaver’s only critique was that while it’s a bold move from the publisher (TOI), “more intense campaigning is needed.” Light-up the Internet suggests this millennial.
According to Amit Kekre, national strategy head, DDB Mudra Group, Times Out and Proud is one of the most meaningful campaigns for the LGBTQIA+ community that he has seen in India. “Most campaigns about the issue treat it with a sense of tokenism. Here’s one that puts its money where its mouth is. And in doing so, it frees the LGBTQIA+ community from the stereotypical portrayal of a hypersexualised lot and puts the narrative smack in the middle of other and arguably, more important factors that constitute a dignified life – the right to a place of one’s own – physically, personally and socially,” he says.
Kekre also thinks that the use of classifieds is extremely poignant and potent. “Classifieds ads are an excellent barometer of societal attitudes – of how people of society look at forming social bonds. The advent of inclusive and diverse classifieds is a telling comment on the progressiveness of the Indian society.”
He adds, “In an increasingly digital world dotted with dating apps, newspaper classifieds are also reminiscent of an era and an eco-system where people invest in meaningful relationships. It speaks of a world where the search for a genuine life partner trumps the need for one night stands, typified by dating apps – and sadly, yet another stereotype associated with the LGBTQIA+ community.”
The core thought behind ‘Out and Proud’ was to address misconceptions and to challenge the stereotypes that plague the LGBTQIA+ community, according to Sanjeev Bhargava, director, Brand TOI, tells us. “A lot of people shy away from talking LGBTQIA+ issues and topics because they are genuinely un-informed. Lack of information or misinterpretation of issues build barriers. We are hoping to break these barriers through a whole roster of content – whether article or videos or columns,” he says.
Over the last couple of years, Bhargava and his team have worked on various social and cause-based campaigns. But ‘causevertising’ is a cluttered space. So how can a campaign break not just barriers but also brand clutter.” Bhargava says, “The difference between a successful campaign and an ordinary one is simply the sensitivity and insightfulness with which the narrative is crafted. With our recent campaign, we have adopted a simple dictum: a non-confrontationist approach to create understanding, empathy, acceptance, support, and love for the diversity that the community represents. The work is painstakingly sincere, genuine and anchored deeply in offering a real solution to the problems.”
The Agency Report
Swati Bhattacharya, chief creative officer, FCB Ulka, on a special moment from the Times Out and Proud campaign
“While each story is special and unique, Surabhi* was the first story we shot and hence it would be the one that truly shook us up. Her confidence and her absolute resilience, from the time the camera rolled and she looked into the lens, made us realise how long these stories have been waiting to be told. We knew we were participating in a huge movement of change, as she opened up about her life. Even after we cut, the crew was silent and in awe of her confidence and resoluteness. The making of this film has been a journey of inspiration. Each character’s courage was electric. We realised that no law, no societal prejudice can ever stop love. It’s a force bigger than anything else. And there’s no revolution bigger than love.”
*Surabhi Raut, a young filmmaker, came out of the closet publicly for the first time through this campaign.