The author first encountered Closeup’s campaign to talk about all kinds of love when he saw a 2020 guest article on Vice Asia that talked about a lesbian couple’s wedding in New Zealand. It was marked as content sponsored by Unilever’s oral care brand which is a household name in parts of Asia. Later, he knew that this was part of something bigger, and one newer part of this effort takes advantage of two major tech trends: non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse.
Unilever’s effort to change attitudes toward “unconventional” couples in its various markets is an effort to address how these people are treated in different societies. The company has engaged in almost two years of building up awareness of such relationships as same-sex, interfaith and even inter-caste ones. Now, it has released the results of a 2019 research study on youth in those relationships that underlies the campaign. It is also launching its first-ever engagement with NFTs, offering couples the chance to symbolically wed in a virtual setting called the Closeup City Hall of Love. In that place, couples will be able to mint NFT “marriage certificates” as a souvenir of the experience.
According to Gaurav Datta, Unilever’s Global Brand Vice President for Closeup, the company wanted to make use of NFTs and the metaverse as a way of providing a “safe space” for couples facing social stigmas. They were also aiming to transform NFTs “[from] a status symbol to a symbol of love”, he says, adding that “[it becomes] one that is priceless, non-tradeable, and irreplaceable – shared only between two individuals”. He adds that the purpose of having NFT marriage certificates, even if not legally binding, is to help the couple see and acknowledge their relationship.
There is reason to help the couples who might visit the Closeup City Hall of Love. In 2019, Unilever commissioned a study covering seven of its major Closeup markets, including three Southeast Asian countries: Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. The recently released white paper aimed to answer one question: how are young people in those countries free to express their feelings of attraction toward another person? The survey found that while more than half of those asked felt free to love someone, regardless of their background, many of them faced social stigmas, manifest in family opposition or even the loss of friendships. Nearly 80% admitted to having an “unconventional” relationship, and an equal number of those surveyed wanted to live in “a world where people are free to be with the person that they are attracted to.”
In response to the survey’s findings, Unilever decided to launch an advocacy campaign in Closeup’s markets, aiming to change social attitudes toward “different” couples and encouraging ways to support them. “[Closeup stands] for closeness,” Datta says, “and we believe we need to play a bigger role in building a world where everyone is free to love.” The company is using technology in other ways to strengthen its efforts. For instance, apart from their dedicated resource website that is the gateway to the Closeup City Hall of Love, they are working on an initiative in the Philippines to map safe spaces for same-sex couples using Google Maps, a useful online resource in a society that is still largely cold toward such relationships.
Does Closeup’s new NFT and metaverse initiative mark a new chapter in using contemporary tech trends as part of efforts toward corporate social responsibility? It will take a while before we can see whether others follow behind a brand that has always urged couples to “get closer”.
Closeup, one of Unilever’s oral care brands, has announced an initiative to celebrate “unconventional” couples by offering a space in the metaverse to honor their relationships by minting NFT “marriage certificates.”
The initiative is part of a multi-year campaign that was spawned by research commissioned by Unilever finding that young people face a lack of acceptance for being in “different” relationships.
Apart from creating a metaverse space and special NFTs for couples, the company’s campaign includes the use of more established online tools such as a resource website and an online map for LGBTQ “safe spaces”.