With each spring comes a handful of certainties: fresh flowers, warmer weather, and for good reason, an annual public discourse on rainbow washing and corporate participation in Pride.
Plenty of folks on both ends of the political spectrum believe brands should avoid activism and disentangle themselves from social movements altogether. Some progressives feel brands unfairly capitalize on the hard work of activist communities they failed to support for decades; many conservatives want brands to sell what they came to sell and leave politics to the politicians.
But art, including content and advertising in almost all its forms, is inherently political. With Millennials and Gen Z-ers using their values to inform purchasing decisions, we should expect many brands to become more activist, not less. They may not trust them as much as older generations, but younger generations coming into their political and purchasing power still expect brands to make bold values statements and lead from their purpose.
But even as businesses retool their communications and marketing practices to meet consumer demand, plenty are still striking out. From a brand activation perspective, Pride Month – a time to honour 2SLGBTQ+ progress and those who delivered it – has become a predictable smorgasbord of bad rainbow merch.
If you’re lucky, a bad Pride campaign will land with a muffled thud. If you’re unlucky, your brand will become the target of well-deserved online ridicule. American comedian and content creator Megan Stalter gave voice to 2SLGBTQ+ people the world over with her deadpan delivery mocking overzealous brands for their opportunism. The video has been viewed over 1.3 million times since June 2, and with it came an entire genre of TikToks predicated on young folks teasing brands for insincere or poorly executed Pride campaigns.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Notwithstanding personal feelings about the corporatization of Pride, the reality is that brand involvement in social activism – sincere or not – is here to stay. If your organization is going to participate, you have to make it count.
When working with clients to meaningfully address social issues with sensitivity, we often think about our work together in the context of “the Four P’s” – strategic considerations which, when factored in alongside the traditional 4Ps of marketing, offer a strong foundation for effective, well-rounded communication. Together, these core considerations are invaluable in helping your organization build a Pride campaign to be proud of.
Purpose-led communication has been widely discussed in recent years, and for good reason: the campaigns that perform best tend to align with an organization’s raison d’être. What is your place in the world? Why do you do what you do? And what are your core values?
For example, if your purpose is helping people transform their lives through furnishing and accessories, an impactful Pride campaign could focus on the creation of safer spaces with 2SLGBTQ+ community members. If you’re a ridesharing or transportation app whose purpose is changing the way people get around, an accessible “safe ride” program from a city’s 2SLGBTQ+ cultural districts could stand out.
Without exception, your purpose shapes everything you do as an organization. Your participation in Pride shouldn’t be any different.
We like: Jägermeister’s YouTube documentary on The Lesbian Bar Project and its goal to save the 21 remaining lesbian bars in the U.S.
Brands must always be conscious of their credibility—a precious, finite currency that’s slowly built up over time, and one that can be depleted instantaneously. The actions your organization has taken, especially those that affect your own workforce and supply chain, dictate how much credibility you have. If you’ve discriminated against 2SLGBTQ+ people in the past, your limited-edition rainbow t-shirts are unlikely to be well-received by the public.
If your organization has a strained relationship with the 2SLGBTQ+ community or has historically caused it harm – take, for example, police forces in major cities worldwide which have been barred from marching in Pride parades in uniform – don’t be surprised if you’re held accountable. Your credibility correlates directly to whether or not you’re granted permission to enter and participate in queer spaces.
We like: In 2017, Absolut – which has a 35-year track record of supporting 2SLGBTQ+ rights – ran its Kiss With Pride initiative, raising awareness of the fact that same-sex relationships are still illegal in 72 countries.
Deeds are values personified. If you’re not willing to put your money where your mouth is, there’s no real reason for consumers to believe in your sincerity. People expect more than a rainbow logo and Pride Month post on social media; they want to see how you’re living the values you claim to espouse and are making a measurable difference for 2SLGBTQ+ people—not just during Pride Month, but throughout the year.
Allyship isn’t an isolated act, nor should it be performative. It’s both a commitment and a process. For your solidarity to be sincere, there must be some evidence of sustained support.
We like: Unilever’s Pride initiative, which focuses on bringing change to the five U.S. cities with the lowest scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
For myriad reasons, content consumption went through the roof during COVID-19, but there wasn’t a corresponding increase in public perception of the brands that created some of that content. There’s a tangible hankering among the public for standout stories with some sparkle. They’re craving authenticity and humanity.
Pride isn’t a moment; it’s a movement. Not so long ago, it was sparked by real people facing systemic discrimination, and who at enormous personal cost, used their voices to affect change for millions of others worldwide. There is limitless depth and richness to the human stories at the heart of Pride. The public wants to hear them; your team wants you to share them.
For their sake, and the sake of those whose sacrifice made it possible for us to take for granted that the 2SLGBTQ+ community can occupy space in public life, those stories need to be told.
We like: Reebok’s 2021 unisex Pride apparel collection which pays homage to ballroom culture and was designed by Colorful Soles, Reebok’s LGBTQ+ employee community.