11/08/2017 1:25 PM AEST | Updated 11/08/2017 1:26 PM AEST

Big Ad Agencies Won't Do Ads For Plebiscite 'No' Campaign

'With this plebiscite will come a whole lot of hurtful messages from the No campaigners.'


Some of Australia's biggest advertising agencies have pledged not to work on anti-marriage equality ads in the lead-up to the postal plebiscite, potentially forgoing millions of dollars in revenue.

After it was confirmed this week the government would forge ahead with its controversial postal plebiscite plan, attention turned again to the feared divisive and harmful debate which would accompany such a public vote on same-sex marriage. Multiple LGBTQ advocates and mental health experts (here, here, here, here and here) have outlined how a plebiscite and its resulting public debate may further marginalise the gay community.

As claimed by Australian Marriage Equality, "a plebiscite would give anti-gay campaigners the biggest stage they have ever had". AME cite research that LGBTQ communities worldwide had "suffered significantly during referenda debates on marriage equality", including one U.S. state where mood disorders, alcohol-use disorders and anxiety disorders dramatically jumped during a referendum on marriage.

In response to the plebiscite's confirmation, members of Australia's biggest ad firms including Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, M&C Saatchi and BWM Dentsu have signed up to the 'Say No to No' campaign, pledging not to work for the anti-marriage equality push.

"I've been in ads for over 30 years and it's a great community. Sometimes we have to make messages or ads for things we don't necessarily believe in 100 percent, but when it comes to these sorts of issues, it's an opportunity for us to have an impact. This is something we can make a difference," Nick Cummins, creative partner at The Royals agency and one of the campaign's organisers, told HuffPost Australia.

"We know there are going to be those hurtful and harmful messages which will hurt a lot of Australians, so this is us having the ability to say 'not on our watch'. It's like refusing to work on tobacco advertising, I see it as similar. This is not about stopping people voting no, its just us saying we won't create hurtful messages."

While a compulsory legislated plebiscite would have seen up to $10 million in government funding given to the respective 'yes' and 'no' sides, Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed this week that it was "not anticipated" any public funding would be granted in the case of a postal plebiscite. Nonetheless, immense amounts of money -- through private donations and fundraising -- will fuel a big ad campaign from both sides, predicted by veteran political strategist Bruce Hawker to be up to $60 million in total.

"When it comes to marriage equality somehow we have forgotten that a fair go for all is at our core. Even worse, our elected officials don't have the backbone to make the call on our behalf," a statement from the campaign reads.

"And with this plebiscite will come a whole lot of hurtful messages from the No campaigners. Messages that will upset many of our community. Messages that may push some of us into depression or, even worse, to take our own lives."

The Say No To No campaign -- which as of publication time lists more than 350 supporters, from freelance copywriters and individual employees to entire advertising firms -- is imploring the rest of the ad industry to commit to not supporting the 'no' push, despite the millions in ad revenue on offer.

"Imagine if every agency, production company, sound designer or illustrator said No to working on these harmful ads. Imagine then our friends in media also standing up and saying No to the No campaign. And brands also joining in to pledge that no harmful ads will appear on their sites or channels," the statement reads.

"Yes, the No campaigners will find a way to make their hurtful divisive messages. But we can make it difficult for them. And more importantly, we as an industry can show our friends in the non-heterosexual community that we still believe in them and in fairness."

"Help stop the harmful messages and Say No to No."

For more info, or to sign up, see SayNoToNo.com.au