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Storyboard18 | International Transgender Day: Are brands really that inclusive?

It's March 31. It's also International Transgender Day of Visibility, and a good time to ask whether brands are really moving the needle on inclusivity.

March 31, 2022 / 08:56 AM IST
(Representational image) Homegrown brands like Bhima Jewellery, Airtel, Kaya, Colobar Cosmetics, Vicks, Brooke Bond Red Label and Nykaa are among those that have launched campaigns and initiatives for gender inclusivity. (Image: Harry Quan via Unsplash)

(Representational image) Homegrown brands like Bhima Jewellery, Airtel, Kaya, Colobar Cosmetics, Vicks, Brooke Bond Red Label and Nykaa are among those that have launched campaigns and initiatives for gender inclusivity. (Image: Harry Quan via Unsplash)

Why don’t we divide this world between you and me, one part for people who look like you, one part for people like me? This is the question that Kaya is asking in its BeautyInSafety campaign launching on International Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31).

The skincare brand has taken its first step towards extending support to the transgender community with the launch of this new initiative and so have many other brands. In a bid to be more inclusive, over the years brands have been launching campaigns like 'Swad Apnepan Ka, Touch of Care’ or aligning themselves with ongoing projects that serve the community. But is it enough?

Like Samyukta Ganesh Iyer, VP and Head of Marketing, Kaya, says, “For communities that have gone through years of oppression and marginalization, such as the transgender community, no efforts are enough. But we start somewhere.”

Other marketing experts echo this opinion. Brands are trying, they say.


While inclusivity has been the mantra for some time now, it is also a marketing agenda.

“The youth today are much more likely to respond to ads that bespeak this sensitive topic of gender equality and diversity. There are some brands still that are unsure about the inclusiveness of the community and need a change of perception. However, brands at large are now aware and sensitive towards the community and it’s clearly showcased by the change in content ideation we can see,” says Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and CCO, White Rivers Media.

Coming back to Kaya’s initiative, with its Beautiful is You rebranding, Kaya’s HR team has gotten into a long-term collaboration with Perriferry to hire transgender persons into the system across levels and functions.

“We already have people who have joined us and some others who are joining us soon. But that's not where it ends. It can't ever end at the first step and entry. Once the transgender community is a part of the Kaya family, they should feel just as comfortable as us. The HR team has been swift to adapt the infrastructure, the policies and even us to welcome them,” says Iyer.

For Schbang, the agency that conceptualized the campaign, the goal was to create something that would go beyond performative representation of India’s transgender community in media and communication.

“We wanted to truly pass the mic to this community, set an example for how campaigns should create the space for marginalized identities to drive their narrative with their voice, and create real impact,” says Rhea Amin, AVP-Integrated Solutions, Schbang.

Samir Modi, founder and managing director at Colorbar Cosmetics, also says the brand is for anybody who loves makeup, not necessarily identifying with a particular gender. “We are inclusive in our hiring practices and have transgender beauty advisors as well,” he says.

These initiatives, however, are not limited to the beauty and skincare category.

Not too long ago, Mastercard introduced an initiative called True Name. Addressing challenges of misrepresentation, Mastercard has introduced a new feature under this initiative that lets transgender and non-binary people display their chosen name on their card.

“The world is slowly but decidedly adopting a more inclusive outlook and brands are seen attuning themselves to reflect, embrace and amplify gender diversity and inclusivity through their communication strategies,” says Rajni Daswani, Director - Digital Marketing, SoCheers.

Some international brands like Nike, Sephora, Levi's, Starbucks, Mastercard have set a strong example and homegrown indie brands are following suit.

Bhima Jewellery, Airtel, Kaya, Colobar Cosmetics, Vicks, Brooke Bond Red Label and Nykaa are some examples.

According to a 2021 study by Kantar Global Monitor titled ‘The power of inclusion and diversity in advertising’, demonstrating inclusion and diversity in advertising is no longer optional, it’s an imperative.

The report said inclusion and diversity is one of the ingredients, or creative devices, used by brands to make their ads both creative and effective. In 2021, we predict this ingredient will be elevated to a habit for more advertisers. That’s because being inclusive in advertising isn’t only socially and morally right, it’s also good for brand ROI.

Siddhartha Singh, co-founder and director, BlackCab, says with a new wave of social media has come a new sense of awareness.

“Today, we as individuals are more sensitized towards diversity and inclusion, hence brands have also started adopting a highly inclusive approach. The conversation is slowly progressing to a more normalized one, however we’re just getting started,” he says.

Singh says that it's about time that we move on from representing the community as the one trying to get acceptance and work towards treating them as equals.

“Education, the right understanding and the right representation is vital and this definitely shouldn’t stop at one ad film or for that matter a few hires in the company," he says, "this requires a larger movement.”

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Tasmayee Laha Roy is Assistant Editor of Storyboard18. Storyboard18 is Network18's flagship platform focused on the advertising & marketing community and a leading source of news and analyses on the business of brands.
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