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The theme of sensitivity to LGBTQ+ issues and communities has been on the ascendant for the past 5-6 years or so. Since 2016-17, we have seen ads from brands embracing this issue as a sign of progressive thinking and values. 

It has happened for various reasons - following American “woke” culture, addressing youth audiences and building emotional connect with them and also for genuinely activist stances. Since the striking down of Section 377 of the IPC by the Supreme Court of India in 2018, the focus in popular culture on LGBTQ+ themes is notable. Web series like ‘Made in Heaven’ to movies like ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’, popular culture has stepped up to explore such new age themes.

Brands have also followed suit in their own ways and it is very likely that the digital marketing teams of many brands are discussing the trend of LGBTQ+ themes and whether they should follow the trend, to be topical. Many brands also highlight Pride month and rainbow memes during this period.

However, the whole area of ‘alternate sexuality’ is a bit of a slippery slope to tread as brands positioning themselves as queer-friendly can also receive a lot of backlash in a country like India which is still quite conservative. From a marketing point of view, the concern would be whether, in the rush to embrace the young, the older generation feels alienated from the brand.

To explore the topic further, we take a look at some of the new-age digital brands versus conventional old-school brands and their positioning around the theme of LGBTQ+ narratives to analyse if there are any differences between them.

Here are some examples:

Types Of Moms: A Year After Section 377 Was Revoked In India | Indian Moms On LGBTQ Rights | iDIVA

iDiva made a branded content YouTube video a year after section 377 was decriminalised in India. In the video, popular influencers and content creators like Kusha Kapila and Dolly Singh are seen portraying their renditions of how moms would react to homosexuality being decriminalised. 

The video portrays the imagined mother as one who is coming to terms with the news that homosexuality is legal in India. Influencers act as mothers from different regions in India, speaking varied languages and coming from different economic sections of the society as well. However, all of them share a common goal of accepting their kids or loved ones regardless of their sexuality.

In the video, the new-age mother is portrayed as the one who is treading the line carefully between being progressive and retaining some of society's old traditions at the same time.

It’s funny how many of the creators imagined mothers to look at homosexuality through a conventional binary lens of a heterosexual relationship. The mothers, according to them, would still want traditions like marriage to be followed in a queer relationship too.

This was a branded content video; thus, iDiva was mentioned only towards the end of the video when there was a call to action to like, share and subscribe to the YouTube channel. Apart from that, the brand of iDiva remains in the background for much of this video. We only see the logo of the brand in the top-right corner.

The First Step to Pride ft. @SushantDivgikarRaniKohenur | Netflix India

The video follows the narrative of a boss educating her employee about the queer community. It is a piece of branded content. The story is about an employee who is nervous about his interview as he does not know whether he’ll get the job. He gets the job but bungles up the pronouns he uses to address his boss, who is a non-binary person. 

After the call with his boss, Nihal, the employee calls his sister to tell her how his interview went. He mentions that his boss is a ‘meetha’, a derogatory term used for queer people in the Indian context. His sister scolds him for using this kind of language. Nihal then takes up the initiative to educate himself. He watches shows on Netflix like Queer Eye, which are related to the LGBTQ+ community and googles why it is wrong to say the word ‘meetha’.

However, the next day when Nihal is supposed to give a presentation to the clients and his boss, he forgets to close his tabs. The boss, Tej, sees the tabs and is disheartened. Nihal then calls to apologise to the boss and explains to Tej that he was trying to understand more about the community.

Instead of scolding him, the boss understands and even suggests shows for him to watch on Netflix, like Schitt’s Creek. Tej further asks Nihal to feel free to ask them any questions about the community.

Netflix India tries to portray its vision of a queer-friendly environment in the workspace and culture at large. It wants a culture where there is openness to have conversations, where employees or people are not ‘cancelled’ because they make mistakes or say something wrong. And the community in question is also accepting and understanding of people who are trying to learn.

This is a good piece of branded content, wherein Netflix India subtly but repeatedly plugs in its shows. Towards the end of the video, there’s a tagline which says - ‘Actions stream louder than words’. The pun is on the word stream instead of ‘speak’, as Netflix India is a streaming platform.

Vicks - Generations of Care #TouchOfCare

Vicks weaves the theme of LGBTQ+ into its campaign #TouchOfCare quite seamlessly by using this advertisement. The ad follows the story of an orphan child whose father had left a long time ago and whose mother passed away too when she was eleven years old.

After being in an orphanage for some time, this girl was adopted by a transgender woman. The girl narrates how her new mother takes care of her and provides her with everything she needs. The little girl shares how she wants to be a lawyer instead of a doctor to legally fight for her mother and provide her with the basic human rights that she needs.

The ad’s message is that mothers are mothers regardless of their gender. It talks about unconventional mothers and their resilience. It also craftfully talks about how transgender women are wronged by society, as they cannot even have basic human rights. 

However, even though the message of this ad campaign is beautiful, the placement of Vicks as a brand comes only once towards the end of the ad. Vicks is not woven into the narrative of the ad. Thus, when we think of this ad, we cannot recall that it was Vicks who made this ad, as the brand's recall value diminishes in front of the ad's narrative. The story overpowers the brand in this campaign.

Bhima Jewellery. Pure as love.

Bhima Jewellery made an ad around the story of a young transgender woman. The ad serves as a coming of age of the woman, from transitioning from having male-like features like a beard to fully embracing her femininity. 

The parents of the girl are shown as accepting. The frames of the videos have dark hues when she’s trying to discover herself. The hues slowly transition to bright colours with many elements of the colour pink towards the end of the ad, as she’s fully completed her journey. There are no dialogues or a voice-over in the ad, yet we are fully engaged with the story solely because of the visuals and the sombre music.

The jewellery is seen repeatedly in the video, as ornaments are considered a part of the code of what it means to be a woman. Towards the end of the ad, she fully transitions to being a woman as she’s getting ready for her marriage. She wears jewellery, dresses up in sarees, and applies lipstick, all the codes of traditionally being a woman.


New-age, media brands are bolder in addressing the issue. Brands like iDiva and Netflix which are essentially digital platforms take on the issue of homosexuality and how it is navigated within Indian culture head-on. Netflix India portrays the difficulty that some good-hearted LGBTQ+allies can also face when it comes to learning about the community, and how there should be an openness in facing those issues. iDiva too addresses issues of how parents would deal with the sexuality of their children, and they push the envelope through branded content towards having a more sensitive and progressive world.

Old-school brands that have been etched in the Indian subconscious way before the advent of digital take a different route towards tackling this issue. They portray narratives of LGBTQ+ folks and their daily struggles. They show empathy towards them by portraying how difficult it must be just to go about navigating their daily lives. These brands do not talk about themes like desire and correct pronouns, but they talk about the more basic human aspects surrounding their existence. They push the audience to understand how it must feel to be different from everybody and how we should embrace those living through this experience instead of making them an outcast of society.

Action Takeaways

Brands thinking about exploring the LGBTQ+ space must keep in mind that this is still a very evolving space.  It is early days yet and the themes are not mainstream.  

Therefore, one of the choices to be made is whether to leverage the space tactically and topically or to select it as a longer-term theme for cause marketing/brand purpose.  As a cause marketer, a further choice arises on stance. The choice is whether to take a more activist stance, focused on consciousness raising and mainstreaming the challenges of the community or to take a softer and more humanistic stance, evoking public empathy for people who are outside the societal mainstream today.