When it comes to creating event-aligned advertising campaigns promoting diversity, there’s a fine line between cut-through and cut-off unless there’s a broader commitment to principles. Bradford Gorman – founder of Sydney’s Design Communication Associates, walks that line, ever so carefully.

It may be a long way from the international hitching of the brandwagon to events the size of the Superbowl with the associated multi-million dollar entry fee – but at the beginning of March, Australian marketers seize the moment and wade into the debate on diversity and social inclusion. Yes, gentle reader, it’s the Sydney LGBTQI, much initialed, Mardi Gras. Getting on the proverbial float – there is a quick build-up of noise from our nationally cherished brands – banks to the fore, beer, to be sure and some surprising newcomers like, Holden. This year Mardi Gras led their charge with a weakly executed yet oh-so-obvious theme around which their sponsorship pack could rally: Creating Equality. Just about any equality, but be sure to dial M for marriage.

And barely has the glitter settled in the filters of several thousand Sydney washing machines and the curiously delayed telecast of the Mardi Gras parade relegated to SBS On-Demand – but verily I say unto you behold the beer brought to you by the Coopers family brewing up a tempest in a stein. The intention was to provoke a reasoned debate about marriage equality – which it seems the Australian social media set is really not all that capable of having. Seems the only more potent mixture than politics and religion in Australia might just be marketing your lovely brand of beer with a bit of bible society birthday cake. What, exactly, were they thinking?

So, what’s the verdict on the communications of corporate Australia’s diversity dance card? Probably somewhere in between the territory of ‘needs to improve’ and ‘fail’. With a few notable exceptions.

More to the point – it was unbelievably successful because of its distribution strategy. The ad went viral from the starting blocks – because it deserved to.

Most marketing and sponsorship by companies which appeared over Mardi Gras period seems to reinforce a view that there needs to be special, targeted and opportunistic messaging created for a particular tranche of society. At Mardi Gras- the LGBTQI community is the target and the broader community observes with varying degrees of amusement, detachment, or in the case of those opposed to inclusion and diversity – outrage and the usual social media trolling.

In actual fact, opportunistic targeting of messaging like this does nothing to promote inclusion – it serves to reinforce difference. When this is combined with creative approaches which rely on stereotypes, awkwardness or perhaps just a lack of good judgement – things can go horribly wrong. Holden has no doubt made a commitment to diversity, but using their Facebook pages to proclaim they’ll get there in about five years is a bit rich at this time of the year. Their ads were a cringeworthy testament to doing things quickly and opportunistically.

Very recently in Australia – we’ve seen some examples of a different approach to diversity inclusive advertising from Meat & Livestock Australia and their continuing, legendary campaign for lamb. Yes, the lamb ad traditionally coincides with Australia Day, the event which makes it eventful… but this year, the association was only vaguely chronological. The creative approach taken by Meat & Livestock is informed and hilarious, instantly engaging. It is at once audacious and clever in being able to reference and poke fun at the campaign’s own past controversies, making amends with vegans and being truly inclusive of just about every marginalised community in Australia. The lamb ads consistently associate the brand with a positive affirmation of inclusiveness and support for diversity, and the humour and self-deprecation is transported into other MLA campaigns like the recent Australian Beef campaign for women. Most important, it’s a consistent, year-after-year commitment to diversity and not shying away from affirming a fairly strong political agenda.

Less recently, GetUp’s extraordinarily moving ad, made for marriage equality but calling for an end to marriage discrimination also put massive runs on the board for what is creatively possible. More to the point – it was unbelievably successful because of its distribution strategy. The ad went viral from the starting blocks – because it deserved to. The narrative of this ad, which is not at all typical of the category of political advocacy, is a timeless message of love. This raises the bar very high for how social inclusion can be effectively made both beautiful and compelling. Not everyone in the LGBTQI community identifies with the marriage equality cause, but no living breathing human would not be moved by GetUp’s approach which asks us not to discriminate against those who chose marriage. Full marks.

The recent campaigns for the 2017 Mardi Gras are believed by the companies paying for them to demonstrate their credentials in and their commitment to inclusion and diversity. Some of the companies involved do in fact have real programs and commitment in this area, particularly the banks and airlines who feature serious, year-round commitments through programs, champions and much investment. A more successful strategy would be to consider their overall marketing program and feature inclusiveness, diversity and commitment to their principles in all marketing communications which they undertake throughout the year, not just for one week early in March.

In years past – the board and directors of Mardi Gras invoked the collaboration of sophisticated practitioners in the professions of branding and advertising to design their brand, refine their annual theming and promote the event. In recent years, the brand has suffered from a lack of direction and misguided issues management such as the recently aborted board directive to un-invite politicians from the event – a move later reversed but not before the reputational damage had been done. In spite of this, the Sydney Mardi Gras has a weakened but strong national and international profile and brand reputation – an intelligent and visionary Mardi Gras board would leverage that brand in sincere effort to co-create with their sponsors a platform from which committed messaging about diversity and inclusion could be launched again.

An approach of co-creation and sophisticated, committed messaging is long overdue – and perhaps something we can look forward to in 2018, the 40th anniversary of the event that puts Sydney on the LGBTQI calendar and puts diversity and inclusion on the agenda for Australia’s marketers.


Bradford Gorman is the Principal of Design Communication Associates