Loud and Proud

Jumping on the Pride brandwagon

We grabbed our glitter, fired up the Lady Gaga and celebrated Pride Month throughout June. As the LGBTQ+ community around the world partied, with celebrations continuing throughout this summer, brands have been keener than ever to get involved and show their support. Done right, this is a show of open-mindedness and respect for a deserving group. However, slapping on a couple of rainbows simply won’t cut it in 2019 – when it comes to LGBTQ+ marketing, there are just as many pitfalls as there are parades.

As Pride Month rolls around each year, so does the same debate on brands at Pride. Every gay media title will inevitably publish a think-piece on the whether the presence of FTSE100 companies is appropriate at an event that is, at its core, 50% an act of political protest and 50% a high-camp street party. Columnists and everyone and their mothers on Twitter alike will voice their opinions with gusto, accusing big-names of ‘pink-washing’. This is aligning a brand with the LGBTQ+ cause so that the public will perceive it as progressive and liberal-minded, while perhaps not doing much to actually help. While most of the community welcome the support (and cash injection) that brands can offer, these are the issues that must be navigated with diligence.

For context, every Pride parade all over the world has its roots in protest. In 1969 at New York’s iconic Stonewall Inn, gays, lesbians, trans people and some pioneering drag queens took a stand against the homophobic NYPD in a four-day riot, birthing the modern gay rights movement. The world’s first Pride parade was held on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and have been for every year since, with the movement having since gone global. This political, socially progressive mood has faded as more freedoms have been won, but it’s this core truth that makes some feel uneasy about commercial entities entering the space. This is especially true for brands with manufacturing plants or investments in countries where being gay is anything from discouraged to deadly.

The brands that get the balance right are the ones doing it with authenticity. It’s not enough just to buy a slot in the parade and re-skin your logo with a rainbow – to be a part of Pride, authenticity is fundamental. What helps is putting your money where your mouth is. A popular approach is creating a limited-edition Pride collection, then donating the proceeds to an LGBTQ+ charity. This is common with fashion brands from adidas to Abercrombie, as it gives something back to the community while tapping into the key generational insight that millennials and gen-Z sure do love wearing rainbows.

However, some are more generous with the profits than others. Premium US-fashion brand J Crew donate a heartening 50% of the ticket price but multi-billion-dollar H&M giving a less impressive 10%. Others like Nike do not disclose the percentage amount, sharing instead that they have donated a mediocre $2.7M since 2012. The product itself is also crucial. Fast fashion collections make a lot of sense, given the seasonal (read: throwaway) nature of Pride merch, but on the other hand I defy you to find any gay, lesbian or trans person who is wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch button-down to a Pride parade. A brand that nails it year-on-year is adidas, whose annual Pride Pack adds subtle rainbows to soles, tongues and trims, swapping their iconic 3-stripes for six.

Roll-out of Pride merch can also raise questions, like when Sainsbury’s announced that they would sell Pride greetings card (fab!) but would only sell them in 200 of their 1,400 stores (…not so fab!). After all, a rainbow greetings card is hardly a hard sell in London or Brighton, but would make a bigger statement in Gloucester or Teeside. By contrast, when M&S launched the very well received LGBT sandwich (like a BLT but… gayer), this was available in stores nationwide with prominent shelf-space dedicated to it. A well-executed PR campaign ensured that everyone was talking  about it a couple of months before Pride-season began, positioning their effort as part of a permanent drive rather than a flash-in-the-pan.

A genuine and human way of approaching Pride is by giving the moment over to LGBTQ+ staff. Proud at Tesco members from all over the country were given the chance to come to London to march in the parade. Barclays, Levi’s and others, reportedly. have similar systems in place. Being on a Pride float in London is an unforgettable experience – passing through Oxford Circus and seeing loud-and-proud crowds stretching all the way back past Topshop is truly special. Diversity & Inclusion never felt so good.

While on the surface Pride seems to be all about pop-music and empowerment, there is still an underlying need for the movement that brands need to consider seriously. A story of a lesbian couple being viciously attacked on a London night bus made headlines in June, which is nothing compared to the plight of people living in one of 71 countries where being LGBTQ+ is still illegal. Before getting carried away with rainbow flags, confetti cannons and drag queens, brands should first consider seriously what they can do to benefit the community.

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