Where do we draw the line in Pride month brand-shaming?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

On the One's founders tells brands how to make the most of Pride month this year without offending.

As we hit the halfway mark in Pride month, as sure as the Brits losing Eurovision we can expect the usual backlash to brands and corporations supporting LGBT+ culture. But with traditional institutions from universities to charities to international embassies under fire for letting LGBT+ communities down, is it maybe time to take a closer look at the positive change marketing can bring on a deeper level?

Chances are that if you’ve read this far then you’re probably on your third “more than just a rainbow flag” piece this Pride Month. But at a time where even teaching basic LGBT+ rights is becoming problematic, and homophobic & transphobic hate crimes are on the rise, it’s more critical than ever that brands are invested in supporting the LGBTQ+ community beyond rainbow tokenism once a year.

Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer generated endless memes and column inches when they launched their LGBT sandwich for Pride month, many levelling the oft-trod and oft-valid argument that the product trivialised the subject matter it represented. However, scratch the surface further and perhaps there was more depth to this seemingly opportunistic meal deal than appeared.

No stranger to the PR machine or Piers Morgan-bating, the retail giant’s rainbow offering caught the attention of everyone - meaning alongside a cash donation to the Albert Kennedy Trust and BeLonG in Ireland, these charities names were also on the lips of a whole new audience too.

In tandem with this, M&S have a thriving 800-strong LGBT+ network who not only made decisions about where the company’s £13.6M community donations went last year, but also shape LGBT+ inclusion on both sides of the shop floor.

All the rainbowified flagship products and press in the world mean nothing if brands aren’t engaged with their LGBTQ+ staff and customers and connected with the community in a deeper sense, as M&S will certainly testify to.

It was this line of thinking that inspired our partnership between Smirnoff and Manchester charity the LGBT Foundation we asked ourselves the following key questions:

Is the brand driving positive change?

Charity donations are the obvious place to start and can provide an immediate show of faith with benefits coming from donations, exposure and resource. But look for evidence of investment beyond the transactional – genuine collaborations, long term planning and deeper business integration are key signs of authenticity.

Our partnership helped LGBT Foundation to grow their nightlife safety initiative The Village Angels outside of Manchester – The Soho Angels launched at the beginning of this year.

Is their own house in order?

LGBT+ networks are thankfully becoming the norm in most corporates. With corporate brands entering this space, it’s crucial to see how they support and engage their own LGBT+ community – do they have a platform to engage outwardly? Have they been consulted on the project? Is there evidence of allyship at a senior level in the business? Is this being translated to HR policy?

LGBT Foundation are now consulting with the Diageo Rainbow Network with internal support at exec level.

How have they involved the LGBT+ community?

Particularly with advertising look for signs that – ideally – it’s been made by the LGBT+ community, features them, represents authentic stories and that they’ve been consulted at each stage of the production.

We worked with Smirnoff to ensure the stars of their Labels are for Bottles ad were from the LGBT+ community, reviewed the scripts and were given a platform to talk about the issues to press and media.

How are they displaying that involvement year-round?

That rainbow logo on your social bio looks great around Pride but what’s the evidence of support ongoing? How are they involved in spotlighting the people, the work and culture when the rest of the world isn’t looking?

Spotlighting the vulnerability LGBT+ revellers face during the festive season, we partnered with LADbible to showcase the people behind the LGBT Foundation’s Village Angels.

What are their long term goals?

Are they are announcing a long term partnership? What are the quick wins and stretch goals in place? Does the brand have a right to play in this space as their own plans continue to unfold?

Taking our learnings from year one, we are working with Smirnoff and Diageo to integrate LGBT Foundation even further into their business in the coming year.

While there are countless examples of brands co-opting queer culture as a perceived easy win in Pride season, there are also plenty that want to use their powers for good and deepen their relationship with the communities they seek to support.

We recognise that it’s not always easy getting this right, so if you’re a brand looking to go the extra mile on any of the above, or if you just fancy a chat on LGBT+ representation in your organisation then drop us a line to say hello.

Rob Mathie is the founder of On the One.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.