GayTMs, condoms campaigning for marriage equality and a luxury cruise ship with a rainbow cape wishing Sydney a Happy Mardi Gras stood out as companies that wanted to associate their brand with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival for all of their customers and staff — not just the LGBTI ones.

Conveying a message to a target group through media like the Star Observer is one thing. Communicating support for the LGBTI community to the mainstream has potential risk, including alienating customers of diverse faiths and varying degrees of acceptance.

Mardi Gras is an important cultural event for many in the LGBTI community and its allies. It is backed by Destination NSW and it is one of the biggest events on the Australian cultural calendar.

If it weren’t for corporate sponsors, each party-goer or attendee to an official Mardi Gras event would be chipping in a little more. Sponsors help shape the event, but until now most have kept their sponsorship communicated within the community.

However, the “pink dollar” that is often spoken about is not a push-over with blow-in commercial operators. Recent research suggests that cynical targeting of the LGBTI community without connection to it doesn’t break through. Brands need to have an identity and presence in the community to build loyalty.

Mardi Gras’ principal sponsor ANZ mainstreamed its LGBTI-friendly marketing with the now-famous GayTMs (pictured, above) and according to organisers, this changed the game.

Retail distribution managing director Mark Hand spoke with the Star Observer about why they were so overt with their marketing in the mainstream.

“Public support for our GayTMs was overwhelming and we received positive feedback across social and traditional media, both in Australia and overseas,” he said.

Hand also felt it was important to connect his corporation with the community at a grass roots level.

“We’ve donated the ATM operator fees for non-ANZ cardholders from GayTMs to Twenty10, a not-for-profit organisation that supports young people and their family and friends who are dealing with gender and sexuality issues,” he said.

Hand was not worried about negative reaction from his customers, indicating they supported a wide range of events but noted there were some wins for spreading diversity in the workplace.

“ANZ has a diverse range of sponsorships that demonstrate the values of our brand, our staff and our customers,” he said.

“We made a conscious decision to support the Mardi Gras, as it forms part of our commitment to building an inclusive and open environment, where people feel comfortable to bring their whole self to work.”

Hand also stressed the connection and message of diversity to both employees and customers: “We want the best people to work at ANZ and this campaign was purposefully targeted at the community and our workforce to encourage the messages of diversity, inclusion and respect.”

Condom manufacturer Durex, also a Mardi Gras sponsor, decided to launch its Love Same Sex campaign during the festival. It was a simple idea of recording the years that same-sex couples have been together and this included a stand at Fair Day, the official opening event of the Mardi Gras festival.

Their campaign finished with a float in the parade telling stories of more 8000 years worth of same love in the LGBTI community and was also communicated to a worldwide audience via an online music video.

Meanwhile, although cruise liner company Cunard was not a sponsor of Mardi Gras, it did work collaboratively with organisers to make a grand entrance of the Queen Elizabeth in to Sydney Harbour. With a 20m-long rainbow cape emblazoned with “Happy Mardi Gras” and drag star Vanity Faire adorning a huge stiletto at the front of the cruise liner, the sight seemingly paid homage an iconic scene from the roof of the bus in classic Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Elizabeth wishing Happy Mardi Gras. Photo Credit James Morgan

Elizabeth wishing Happy Mardi Gras. Photo Credit James Morgan

Helicopters captured the moment from the sky and photographs were supplied to media outlets the same day. The story was one of the most-viewed and shared stories on the Star Observer website over the Mardi Gras weekend.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras chief executive Michael Rolik thought the all-of-market broadcasting of LGBTI inclusion was particularly evident this Mardi Gras and that it encouraged more brands to take risks in the future. In talking about ANZ, he was full of praise, saying they were “bold” and “showed amazing leadership”.

“Not only have they demonstrated support in the community, they are really standing up saying ‘we celebrate diversity in all its forms within the LGBTIQ community’,” he added.

Rolik also acknowledged that as many brands were international, in some regions their support of the community could have been “incredibly risky”.

He said he took heart with both the Durex and ANZ campaigns, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive by all of the stakeholders  and that have set a new benchmark for organisations that want to strongly associate with LGBTI causes.

Rolik also appreciated the way in which Cunard collaborated with them to take advantage of a ship coincidentally timed to arrive on Mardi Gras morning and that they kept it quiet to make the entrance as spectacular as possible.

Cunard Australia’s corporate affairs vice president confirmed that while there were some risks, “the very nature of the cruise industry is inclusive”. He also said all the brands in his company’s international network were also very supportive.

Specialist LGBTI-focused advertising agency Pink Media Group recently commissioned a report by research company The Insights Grill about what worked best. While it was delivered after these three campaigns were put into motion, they all made a positive lasting impression with the LGBTI community.

The Insights Grill managing director Ben Grill made special mention of the Durex campaign because of its overt alignment to an important cause to many in the LGBTI community — marriage equality.

“What came out of the research is that brands that align with a cause that is near and dear to our hearts, and one that we see as a particular challenge, well it is those brands that will get our loyalty more,” he said.

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