Hong Kong’s subway operator has pulled a marketing U-turn, reversing its ban on a Cathay Pacific advertisement featuring a same-sex couple and allowing it to be displayed at metro stations across the city.
In a response to the South China Morning Post, the MTR Corporation’s advertising handler – the French company JCDecaux – said the advert can now be displayed at subway stations.
The reversal came in the face of heated criticism of the ban, and less than 24 hours after the Post revealed that both MTR and the city’s airport had banned the advert because of its same-sex content.
“We have been in contact with the relevant advertising agency and have just confirmed to the advertising agency that the advertisement in question can be displayed at MTR stations,” a JCDecaux spokeswoman said in a statement.
The LGBT-friendly ad will now be able to go on display at subway stations like Central, one of Hong Kong's busiest.
|The LGBT-friendly ad will now be able to go on display at subway stations like Central, one of Hong Kong's busiest. Photo: SCMP/Felix Wong|
The advert was part of a rebranding campaign by Cathay Pacific to highlight its attitude to diversity.
MTR Corp initially deflected the decision to ban the advert back on the French advertiser, despite JCDecaux following the railway giant’s advertising guidelines. It later “requested the agency to fully consider the corporation’s commitment to equal opportunities and diversity when it considers advertisements in the future.”
Within a day, it appeared that Hong Kong’s government-owned subway operator had buckled under public criticism by overturning the decision.
“In the future, we will pay due regard to MTR Corporation’s commitment to equal opportunities and diversity when handling the placement of the advertisement,” the JCDecaux statement said.
Participants at the Hong Kong's gay pride parade in 2018. There are no restrictions on LGBT advertising in the city, but it remains conservative on LGBT rights.
Participants at the Hong Kong's gay pride parade in 2018. There are no restrictions on LGBT advertising in the city, but it remains conservative on LGBT rights. Photo: SCMP/Edward Wong
The city’s LGBT community had reacted sharply to the ban. An online campaign condemned MTR Corp and the airport for banning the same-sex advert.
Activists called on Hongkongers to take photos holding a picture of the banned advert at subway stations and the airport and to post the photos on social media.
Raymond Chan Chi-Chuen, Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker, said the ball is now in the airport operator’s court.
“[The] Airport Authority’s response on this was terrible,” Chan said. “But Cathay also has to get back to the authorities and press them on the matter.”
Danny is a contributor to Inkstone. He is a reporter for the South China Morning Post focusing on original reporting, investigative and breaking news, specializing in aviation.
Phila is a contributor to Inkstone. Over the years he has reported on a range of issues - including human rights, security, politics, society and sports - in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Rio de Janeiro, Europe, Macau and mainland China.