The newspaper has released a video explaining the initiative. We spoke to Sanjeev Bhargava, director, Brand TOI and Swati Bhattacharya, chief creative officer, FCB Ulka about the campaign.
The Times of India's latest ad campaign 'Out & Proud' highlights the brand's support for the LGBTQ cause. As part of the initiative, TOI introduced 'TIMES Out & Proud Classifieds', a portion of the newspaper's classifieds page dedicated to the LGBTQ community.
Conceptualised by FCB Ulka, the ad film features four scenarios - a gay man looking for a house, a lesbian opening up to her father, a gay couple announcing an anniversary and a gay man looking for a partner. The campaign has been launched coinciding with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2019 (May 17).
However, such a move from a traditional print media giant like TOI hints at how brands are undergoing a major shift in their advertising. The classified ads can be placed for free by the LGBTQ community for the first three months, starting today.
The campaign is being promoted on digital, followed by the newspaper with a possibility of propagation on the radio too.
Sanjeev Bhargava, director, Brand TOI, says, "Whether the landscape is changing or not, the question is 'does it need to change?' As a newspaper, it is imperative for us to understand the things society needs to change and we, as a newspaper, need to support a desirable change."
When asked about the marketer's worry when the theme is not so well-accepted, Bhargava says, "It takes courage to go ahead with a campaign which is not mainstream or populist. Of course, we worry, but that's a risk we are taking. The campaign is about acceptance and love and not provocation. We are talking about it in a non-confronting, emotional and engaging manner without asking people to take sides.
"The genesis of the campaign, in my view, lies in our interactions with the transgender community during 'Sindoor Khela'. We realised that there was a huge gap in the statement of the Supreme Court judgement about Section 377 and people embracing it. When Swati Bhattacharya from FCB Ulka, came up with the idea, it was the perfect answer," he adds.
Times of India launched its award-winning 'Sindoor Khela - # NoConditionsApply' campaign that challenged a 400-year-old tradition of married women playing with vermillion on the last day of Durga Puja. As part of the campaign, women of all walks of life were invited to participate.
Swati Bhattacharya, CCO, FCB Ulka tells afaqs! that the ad was filmed with real people, who were found through friend circles. "It is true that Surabhi (from the ad film) has not come out to her father yet and the film with the classified ad will be a vehicle. The idea for the campaign was born as the classified column, the rest kind of grew around it," Bhattacharya says.
'LGBTQ marketing' is a thing today and has been significantly used by brands. We asked Bhattacharya how 'Out & Proud' stands apart. "For many, it's like 'let's put one LGBTQ person in an ad'. It's almost like a tick-box to make a brand inclusive. We're not using people as props, but getting to know them better. The stories are supposed to help us take a better look at the diversity," she responds.
Narayan Devanathan, group executive and strategy officer, Dentsu Aegis Network - South Asia, finds it to be a positive step. "Featuring real people and stories indicates their willing participation in telling the stories. I applaud that too. But it could have been much better," he says.
"The first thing that strikes me is the position of privilege the makers of this campaign come from as the 'givers' of a rightful place. Rather than the movement towards equality, which might be the honest intent, it veers towards a slightly different place. The default state is the straight community. But by occupying the position of the default, there is a rather conspicuous 'othering' of the LGBTQ community here. Like in the gender equation, the default state is male; in the race equation (especially in the Western hemisphere) it is Caucasian. That one aspect can make the communication and the initiative seem a tad patronising," he adds.
"Also, does the fact that TOI now has a classifieds for LGBTQ people mean that they had discriminatory practices earlier? Maybe I need to be a little more forgiving and acknowledge that, for us members of the straight community, this is perhaps a huge step. Maybe we'll learn and take bigger steps going forward," Devanathan explains.
Auryndom Bose, senior creative director, Dentsu One considers it a "truly brave" move but has a few points. "'Gay Pride', therefore - 'Out & Proud', comes from a Western notion that if you sufficiently project PRIDE, you will convince the world at large. Again, we might be living amidst a different mindset and thus, the larger problem is how to convince society. Given that it is TOI, that would have been the more ambitious task. In LGBTQ conversations, the line between 'privacy' and 'pride' is easily breached and both are important. Will such a column be safely anonymous and private?" he says.
"Out & Proud is only half the story. The other half is the stigma which even more liberal societies don't seem to have overcome. It is a brave gesture for the brand, but is it the right thing for the issue? Are we relegating it to a 'ghetto' in the newspaper? Or is this a loud signal to society that a mainstream newspaper has 'included' them and hence, made them acceptable. Does the LGBTQ theme benefit from high visibility representation or does it become further marginalised by marking out a perimeter to hold discussions in?" Bose asks.
"True inclusion is about opening a dialogue with non-believers and creating tolerance in the larger society. Pessimism apart, what works is that the brand is 'The Times of India' and that lends big support. A legacy brand doing this surely validates the argument," he concludes.
Director: Jaydeep Sarkar
Executive Producer: Prithvi Raj Luthra
Producer: Radhika Puri
Production House: Native Films