Transgender Trouble in Thailand
February 20th, 2013
IKEA had to issue an apology after a recent spot launched in Thailand drew criticism from transgender rights groups. Angry activists lambasted the global Swedish brand, claiming the advert, which depicts a transgender lady getting so excited at a bargain in the store that her voice drops a few octaves, much to the surprise of her male companion, played on negative stereotypes and even violated the human rights of the transgender community of south-east Asia. The company have publicly apologised for the video, which aired on Youtube and to commuters on several of the country’s train networks, and issued a prompt response to the Thai Transgender Alliance, who made the original complaint. This sparked further complaints from the transgender community around the world, who poured scorn on what they saw as a demeaning, trivialising and offensive piece of advertising.
Behind the news:
The title of the ad translates approximately as “Forget To Keep Hidden” or “Forget To Deceive”, and was presumably intended to alert potential customers to the brand’s honesty and affordability in a light-hearted fashion, a fact they are keen to highlight in their carefully worded response. In Thailand, transgender females, known as Kathoeys or sometimes via the popularised anglicism ‘ladyboys’, are fully integrated and accepted members of society, with many leading successful careers in the fashion, beauty and entertainment industries. They are far from obligated to a deviant or secret lifestyle, thus the uproar caused by the advert. This campaign was a little wide of the mark from IKEA, a brand – as history dictates – do not shy away from courting controversy with provocative ad campaigns. In most cases it is the traditional values of the right that are challenged, as with this brouhaha in the US back in 2007, rather than the liberal and inclusive values championed by an organisation such as the Thai TGA. But creative work designed to provoke and entertain is almost inevitably going to alienate some members of any given market – did they overstep the line here, or is it a storm in a Thai-cup?