I’ve never been a Valentine’s Day person. It’s always seemed to be aimed at people who are not me. People who lead glowy, perfect lives, say “I love you” at exactly the right moments, and somehow stomach eight-course degustations without indigestion. And then they have sex afterwards, as if you don’t even have a full stomach. I mean, just who are these people?
Most of us can’t live up to this dreamy, Notebook-esque Epic Love imposed upon us by the marketing gods in the days and weeks leading up to V-Day. But the most alienating thing for me isn’t the sickly sweet sentimentality of it all. There’s one thing that’s so normalised in my psyche through years of advertising and pop cultural propaganda: Valentine’s Day is for heterosexuals. Roses for her, aftershave for him. His and hers.
As a gay person, I don’t see myself in Valentine’s Day ads. Sure, I can identify with straight couples expressing love, because love is love. But brands directly addressing the relationship I have with my partner of nearly 11 years, seeing that as something valid, aspirational and even desirable? That’s almost unheard of.
Then one thing stopped my cynicism in its tracks this week. I was scrolling down a homepage (full disclosure: it was the Mamamia homepage, and no, I wasn’t asked by the brand to say this) and saw a big blue Swarovski box as part of a Valentine’s Day campaign.
Alongside the jewellery brand’s #BrillianceForAll tagline, the imagery featured four couples, including two ridiculously good-looking men sharing a peck on the cheek, and two stunning women in an embrace.
Yes, everyone is still glowy and glossy and impossibly beautiful. That's fine, I expect that from advertising, and a luxury brand at that.
But I was struck by seeing them. It was the first time I could recall seeing gay couples in a global ad campaign on a mainstream website for Valentine's Day, splashed around the articles with such pride.
It surprised me in a good way. I'm not used to seeing gay love expressed in mainstream advertising. I say "mainstream" because, when I used to work for a gay publication earlier in my career, I'd see various brands roll out their "gay" campaigns for the LGBTI press only. Keep it separate or else everyone will turn gay!
The power of seeing even something as simple as a peck on the cheek can't be underestimated. When I give my man a peck or hold his hand in public, there is still – and will always be – a level of self-censorship unless we feel 100 percent safe in the streets we walk in. And even that can't be guaranteed.
While we can celebrate marriage equality now in Australia, the postal survey showed that there are still 38 percent of Australians who voted "no" to LGBTI couples' right to marry. It was a sober reminder to me that the message of diversity isn't hitting home with everyone.
If advertising can normalise these moments, it makes our lives easier. Swarovski's campaign, which celebrates diversity across race and sexual preference, is a great example of what brands can do to promote inclusivity.
The fact that it's still a headline – as it was a few weeks ago when the campaign launched – shows how rare it still is. Last year, Lush Cosmetics made similar headlines when they showed LGBTI couples enjoying their bath bombs and bubble bars. This year, their website has a #LushPride section featuring 10 stories of LGBTI people. It was easy to find on the main section of their homepage, behind an image of two women kissing behind a love-heart bath bomb.
Over the years, many brands have cottoned onto the fact that LGBTI people have money too. But LGBTI romance? We don't see enough of that.
Often, it takes brands explicitly sponsoring the 2018 Mardi Gras Festival to wear their rainbows on their sleeves. Companies like ANZ, Medibank, Qantas, Holden, Google, Absolut, Accor Hotels and Tinder are flying the flag, and that's amazing. Myer has recently "come out" with its Bondi Junction and Sydney City stores' signs turning rainbow to mark a three-year partnership with Mardi Gras. How cool is that?
And while celebrating diversity during the Mardi Gras season is great, the real cultural change will come as LGBTI images become part of all advertising occasions, from Valentine's Day to Mother's Day to Father's Day to Christmas.
It can all start with a peck. It's that easy.