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Samsung’s decision to pull “insensitive” ad is a drag

Businesses should stop exploiting LGBTQ+ people for profit if they’re not ready to defend them

With Pride Month still more than 100 days away, it’s disappointing we haven’t been able to go three weeks into 2022 without already witnessing yet another big company exploit the LGBTQ+ community.

The latest offender is Samsung, with the firm this week releasing – and almost immediately pulling – an ad campaign featuring a drag queen.

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Known as Vyla Virus, the Singaporean performer featured in an ad for Samsung Galaxy Buds and the Galaxy Watch, in which their mother was seen listening to a recorded message thanking her for supporting a “son that does drag”.

"You are just unbothered having people looking or judging you differently,” Vyla tells their mum in a heartfelt voice note, with the two seen smiling and embracing each other. The ad received an avalanche of criticism on social media, however, with many accusing Samsung of promoting the “LGBT ideology". Rather than making any effort to defend the campaign, and its stars, Samsung not only pulled the ad but also issued a public apology for airing something so “insensitive and offensive”.

“We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance, and have since removed the content from all public platforms,” Samsung Singapore stated, while pledging to be “more mindful and thorough in considering all perspectives and viewpoints” in future campaigns.

Although I could dedicate this piece to dissecting the backlash, what bothers me more is Samsung’s role in all of this, and the opportunity it squandered to take a stand for LGBTQ+ rights. Firstly, though, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what motivates such campaigns.

Even as soon as five years ago, this kind of ad would be described as “new”, “different”, and a brave attempt to “start a conversation”. In 2022, however, the conversation is well underway – and Samsung comes across as simply being late to the party. The real reason major companies decide to embrace queer people in their ads is simple: profit.

A pair of white Samsung Galaxy Buds next to a yellow jumper

Getty Images

The now-withdrawn ad was promoting the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Watch

As barriers around employment are lifted and marginalised communities overcome discrimination in the workplace, they tend to earn more money than their predecessors, who were often fired on the spot when outed as gay or trans. In simple terms, the queer community is richer than ever before, with the annual spending power of the global LGBTQ+ community estimated to be worth $3.7 trillion (£2.73 trillion) in 2019.

LGBTQ-inclusive ads, too, have the potential to increase sales by 40%, according to Forbes. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that companies see us queer people as a lucrative opportunity to tap into a new market, while also receiving acclaim for supporting a community that, in many parts of the world, including Singapore, faces prison and corporal punishment.

I’m tired of seeing companies like Samsung exploit LGBTQ+ people for profit and then abandon them as soon as they realise their “woke” ad isn’t cashing in as expected. The queer community isn't a prop to be used in advertising only when it's convenient – these are real people who struggle to be accepted and continue to face very real repercussions for being who they are.

If a company wants to profit off the LGBTQ+ community, they need to be able to support them through and through. Imagine the long-term impact that Samsung could have made if it kept the ad despite the immense backlash? Yes, its sales might have suffered at first but, judging by its recent financial results, the tech giant has plenty of cash to spare.

Samsung could’ve contributed to making real change in a region where support for LGBTQ+ is very much needed. Instead, it decided to emerge from this ordeal with its tail between its legs, apologising for an ad that doesn’t portray anything that’s in the slightest way offensive. The only thing, in fact, Samsung should be apologising for is its treatment of its stars.

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