How can brands get their LGBTQIA+ representation right?

Sneha Medda
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The queer community finds its way into Indian ads in June. However, during the rest of the year, there isn’t much talk on this front. Members of the LGBTQ+ community from the A&M industry share their opinion on how brands can be truly inclusive.

The Indian Advertising sector to date is still looked at through a Cis-gender lens. While over the years, Indian advertisements have seen some representation, brands still haven’t adjusted to all the letters of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

In 2013, Titan Fastrack came out with a " target="_blank" rel="noopener" title="">‘Come out of the closet’ campaign that told the story of two queer women. This was one of the first campaigns by an Indian brand to feature the queer community and talk about them openly. 

Similarly, in 2017 Vicks’ " target="_blank" rel="noopener" title="">#TouchOfCare campaign told the story of a transgender mother which went viral for good reasons and started a good debate on how the Transgender community is underappreciated and undermined. 

Many studies have shown that consumers want to see more representation. According to a report by Cannes Lions and Google, consumers in APAC want to see more groups represented in marketing, and there’s a strong appetite for more inclusive content. But as per their research, it seems not enough inclusive content is being created. Only 1 in 5 consumers feel represented in the ads they see.

In India, beyond the 2.5 million LGBTQ population enumerated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2012, activists have estimated the population of this community in India to be at least 10 percent of the entire population, which comes to 135 million. However, their representation in ads is still limited and seasonal. Many brands end up rainbow-washing as their efforts are not followed by real, concrete on-ground changes.

Social Samosa spoke to folks from the Queer community who pointed out practices that the A&M industry needs to let go of when speaking queer representation. 

The only month for Rainbows

The Queer community is still largely used as a token and only ‘celebrated’ by brands during the pride month. This is either done by changing their logos on the 1st day of June or sharing a topical moment marketing post/campaign on social media platforms.

Throughout the year, ads tend to only look through hetero-normative glasses. Whether it be a Valentine's Day campaign or a normal everyday ad, most couples or characters in these TVCs have zero to no diversity. Even if the brand does include a Queer person, they are either boxed up in the same character, or they can’t move on from the initial letters of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow. 

Summing up this exact issue into one campaign, Dunzo talked about how inclusion is often considered seasonal in their initiative titled ‘Make room for more pride.’ This campaign addressed the issue of tokenism that the Queer community faces in the A&M industry in a very relatable way. 

In India, while LGBTQIA+ representation has improved, it is almost always limited to the digital front. By only catering to digital media, the brand misses out on the larger audience who prefer traditional mediums. To bridge this massive gap, the A&M industry needs to include the Queer community in traditional mediums like OOH, radio, TV, and press. 

In the first week of 2023, the brand-verse saw Future Generali feature two queer couples on the billboards across cities of the nation. Probably for the first time, the Indian OOH space saw a queer couple on the streets of the country.

Social Samosa spoke to some folks from the Queer Community who share insights on how the A&M industry can be more inclusive when it comes to representation. 


R Balaji (They/Them/Their)

R Balaji (They/Them/Their) Associate Director- Talent Partnerships, Pollen mentions, “When it comes to brand communication, it is very constrained. They are still labeling things based on gender, stereotypical colours, and even names. It's important for brands to know and be mindful of inclusivity when talking about the community. Brands need to celebrate the Queer community throughout the year, not just 30 days in June. ‘Pride’ should be celebrated 365 days of the year by having inclusive characters that can have an impact on the budding Queer generation.”

Tokenism is when a majority group, in this case, the cis-het society, recruits a small number of people from an under-represented community, in this case, the Queer community, in order to seem inclusive and stand out for being symbolic.  

Make space for queer people inside organisations

One of the probable reasons for limited representation is the lack of diversity inside organisations.

In India, 79% of LGBTQIA+ employees have indicated that their career growth has slowed down because of their gender identity and expression, and revealing their sexual orientation, according to a recent report by Accenture.


Aditya Tiwari (He/Him)

The Iconic Aditya a.k.a Aditya Tiwari (He/Him) Account Executive, Adfactors PR says, “Brands can avoid it by doing research, by taking out an ample amount of time. By creating spaces for conversation, films, and people that already exist in our society. By valuing them and their journey as it isn’t easy for someone from the queer community to be out and proud.”

Ergo, to get their representation right, it is very important for brands and agencies to be inclusive when hiring. Having people from the community in the boardroom and writers' room can help in telling stories and giving voice to the community correctly. 


Aadesh Bhangre (He/Him)

Explaining how brands usually tend to tokenize the community, Aadesh Bhangre (He/Him) Associate Creative Director, Team Pumpkin suggests avoiding viewing the Queer community as topical or trending content. 

He adds by suggesting "One way to be truly inclusive is to have robust diversity, equality, and inclusivity policies at an organisation level, sensitise your staff through and through, engage with the community, and have them represented in your marketing communication and activities."

As per a report by TimesJobs, as much as 57% of the participants responded in the negative to a statement that their companies openly recruited LGBTQ+ and candidates with disabilities. More than 55% said they still experienced bias in the workplace, including over gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

So, an organisation's role doesn't end with hiring.

Just like having a working curriculum where employees are educated about sexism and workplace manners, it is very important to have induction processes where the staff is educated about being inclusive and in the process make the Queer folks feel seen, heard, and included. 

Also Read: Madhya Pradesh Tourism Strategy: How ‘Hindustan Ka Dil’ is promoted on social media

Promote the normalcy behind being queer

When it comes to external communication, everything in the ad industry is looked at from a gendered lens. From hiring and media planning to looking for the right demographics. 

Kashmira P, who is also a part of the A&M industry, says, “Respect the community through regular content that represents queer people. No force fit, no extra glitter. Include without telling, without exaggerating. It's not taboo. Don't wait for pride month to show inclusivity. Do it anyway! Show that it is normal to be queer. When ads start promoting the normalcy behind being queer, it will positively reflect on the consumer's mindset.”

Oftentimes people blur the lines between tokenism and representation. But in fact, this fine line doesn’t actually exist. They both are far from similar. If a brand truly cares about getting their representation right, they follow up their campaigns with active participation.


Madhvendra Singh

Madhvendra Singh, Creative Lead, Schbang adds, “It's really important to get our narratives right and tell stories that truly reflect the LGBTQ+ community.”

Madhvendra goes on to explain how brands often create campaigns that might seem progressive because of the LGBTQIA+ representation, but it's just disguised behind a cis-het person’s POV. Which in turn erases the real representation and loses its purpose. 

Currently, the A&M industry largely uses the queer community to have conversations around alcohol, fashion, luxury, and sexual wellness brands. There are still long bridges to be crossed before we can see a Queer couple doing the dishes, folding the laundry, or just sharing a cup of coffee in their house in the day-to-day ads. 

However, there have been a few brands that have attempted to be inclusive in a true sense.

Tinder India - A swipe is just the beginning

Lenskart - #SeeTheLove

Star Plus - Make Space for All 

Google - Finding Pride in India 

Brooke Bond Red Label

Anouk - The Visit

Social media Inclusive ads LGBTQIA+ queer community representation inclusivity