Pride – celebrating diversity, championing inclusivity

Award-winning retail design consultancy London

© Absolut Vodka

June 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, the catalyst that sparked the first Pride march a year later. Since then, rights for the LGBTQ community have greatly improved, and Pride has become a mainstream celebration in many countries receiving exposure from international brands. With a long list of brands selling a sea of rainbow products to capitalise on Pride Month, it can be easy to overlook issues still facing queer people.

This raises the question: how can brands support and celebrate Pride without taking away from the message of continuing protest, and the uncomfortable realities that many LGBTQ people still experience?

Can support be damaging?

Supporting Pride can be an obvious choice for many brands, allowing them to access an audience that, research estimates, earns and spends around £70 billion each year in the UK alone. This impact is further amplified when factoring in the spending power of so-called “allies”, straight people who support the LGBTQ community.

For many brands, adding rainbows to products, selling them at a premium, and a temporary rainbow icon is the extent of their Pride strategy. However, with support concentrated in “safe” geographies for LGBTQ people, this rainbow-washing fails to make much of a statement or advance the protest. Arguably, this Pride-by-numbers approach is readily seen as the exploitation of a marginalised community disguised as support. And, while Pride activations can be rewarding, ill-conceived campaigns harm customers’ opinion brands. Listerine’s rainbow packs came in for much criticism. Simply appropriating Pride iconography for hollow commercial gain was seen as a blatant example of ‘corporate queer-pandering’.


Activists hack Home Office Support Migrants Campaign

© Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants protest London Pride 2019

The colourful veneer can also be a smokescreen that distracts consumers and deflects attention from less inclusive behaviours year-round. This year, Google has been threatened with protests from their own employees demanding that they should not take part in Pride due to moderation policies towards LGBTQ harassment on You Tube. In the UK, the Home Office was criticised for supporting Pride while making it increasingly difficult for queer asylum seekers to enter and remain in the UK.

How can brands get it right?

While brands taking part in Pride open themselves up to criticism and run the risk of negative reactions, their support can be instrumental in driving awareness with much greater impact when it is done for the right reasons. By understanding the ongoing issues LGBTQ people face brands are able to use their power to celebrate Pride in a meaningful way. Brands get it right when they are fully engaged, listening to, learning from and including members of the LGBTQ community all year round.


Getting it right TFL Pride Roundels

© Links Signs

Take a leaf from TFL’s book, having identified that many Pride events and comms are not representative of the full breadth of the LGBTQ community, they used the London Transport Network to bring visibility to transgender, bisexual and people of colour who often have to fight for representation within the queer community. While they supported London Pride, they also had a presence at UK Black Pride, showing a commitment that extends beyond just the mainstream events. This is especially notable given the criticism London Pride has faced in the last couple of years for failing to tackle its own diversity problem.

Similarly O2, while not having an official presence at Black Pride this year, encouraged its colleagues as well as customers to support the event as part of a list of country-wide Pride celebrations they took part in. Under the guidance of CMO Nina Bibby, fostering an internal culture of support and acceptance has been key to O2 ensuring that the message of inclusion resonates with their customers and creates a consistent message for the brand when celebrating Pride.

Remember: Pride’s for life, not just for June. What brands do year round to support the LGBTQ community matters. Look at Netflix. They have made changes to their business in order to align with their support of the queer community and regularly include relevant characters and storylines in many of their productions. This allows Netflix to represent communities that have often been invisible in film and TV. It also allows them to be credible in their Pride Month celebrations as they have built up their reputation as allies over time.

Apps such as Grindr and Tinder show an awareness of the danger that queer people face in certain regions of the world. By making changes to their experiences, such as increased security and changing their app icons, the brands are looking to help protect the community that they market to.

Barclays pride campaign images

© Barclays

As part of their commitment to equality, Barclays are supporting 25 pride celebrations around the UK in 2019. They have sponsored Pride since 2014, part of Team Pride and a Stonewall Top 50 employer. Love Goes The Distance campaigns for the freedom of LGBTQ community to live lives on a genuinely equal footing. Barclays continues to implement a broad range of internal and external programmes promoting equality and championing true diversity and inclusion.

Equally, long time supporters of Pride, Absolut, have like many others clad their product in a rainbow print. However, by offering their Pride bottle year round they allow queer customers representation, even when the rainbow has disappeared from most other brands. Absolut also uses its platform to address some of the inequalities faced by LGBTQ people, encouraging conversations to take place around acceptance and inclusion. Further, this year Absolut partnered with renowned LGBTQ identifying celebrities and GLAAD to create a campaign that celebrates the diversity of the queer community and their fearless spirit.

For brands to engage in Pride in a way that feels genuine and authentic for people, they need to be ready to embrace continuous year round support for the LGBTQ community ensuring internal policies reflect their brands outward stance. Support must go beyond the rainbow-wash in Pride month and demonstrate year round solidarity with a community that remains often dismissed or marginalised.

By working with LGBTQ people, brands are marching with the community every day of the year. Engaging in this way confers authenticity and legitimacy because it is for the right reasons. This builds brand trust which is the underpin of all successful brands.

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