Proud all Year

Recently we created a campaign for (possibly the best LGBTQ+ brand ally in the world) Absolut, that explored the future of fashion through the lens of queer sexuality. A joyous and inspiring project to work on, it was rooted in the Absolut ‘Born to Mix’ value system that celebrates the belief that the world is better when fluid and collaborative (from drinks through to ideas and people). It was also highly effective at reaching and resonating with the marginalised and underrepresented voices we wanted to champion.

Whilst the quantitative results matter – the PR coverage, social engagement and influencer pick up was all beyond expectation – the real success stories often lie in the qual. At the event launching the ‘Second Skin Couture’ collection designed by Tayce x Chet Lo x IDF, we heard and overheard soundbites such as ‘this has to be the Queerest event I’ve ever been to’, ‘I’m so happy to be surrounded by real Queer culture’, ‘I feel like I belong here’ and possibly most powerful of all, ‘it’s amazing to be at an event celebrating Queerness outside of Pride month’.

This last comment really struck a chord. How many brands that profess to stand with and support the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride actually commit year-round and long term to LGTBGQIA+ rights and inclusion? The answer to this is very few.

However, these bandwagon brands should rainbow wash at their peril. Consumers / the internet are now super savvy to the one-way culture exchange exploited by hundreds of brands during Pride and are calling them out by revealing dark truths about their internal corporate cultures, under-representation and political funding.

Much like the brilliant twitter ‘Gender Pay Gap Bot’ that published gender pay gap statistics for disingenuous brands claiming solidarity to the gender equality movement on IWD, twitter accounts and publishing outlets are doing the same for Pride. Brands that have a less than authentic track record for inclusion, such as a lack of representation in management, exclusion cases, or even worse – funding of political parties promoting homophobic legislation – are rightly being ‘outed’ for their hypocrisy.

Tokensim can be hard to spot, especially when it’s wrapped up in celebratory hyperbole and shiny, colourful new products. It’s also problematic because it conceals the systemic roots of the inequity and thus blocks progress, in much the same way dominant culture fragility does.  How can we have real conversations about historic, cultural and systemic oppression, at a single moment in time, especially when that moment has become wrapped up in major commercial opportunity for so many self-serving capitalist organisations?

Allyship isn’t joining the party when all your friends are already there, the drink is free and everyone’s merrily dancing to the same beat. Allyship means getting to the party early, meeting new people, having uncomfortable conversations and often dancing on your own.

Pride is a moment in time, but what it stands for isn’t. If brands want to associate with Pride, they need to become a true ally, which means making a commitment to the cause long term and truly understanding the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community and the barriers they face.

Our Step Up process, which helps brands step up and take responsibility for making culture more inclusive, starts with an education and in-depth exploration of where the barriers to inclusion lie for the people experiencing them, including insight and lived perspectives from authentic voices in these communities.

Only by doing this, can marketers really understand why, how and where their brand can have an impact. Impact is the key word. Short term purpose-washing does not create long term change. But bravery, empathy and commitment can.

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