In recent years, the month of June has been the time when brands primarily focus on supporting and partnering LGBT+ Pride, anchoring themselves in the community, and showcasing their diversity and acceptance. But come July 1, once the floats are packed away and the clubs empty, it's back to business as usual.
This year with the political unrest and the global health crisis, brand statements of support are placed under even greater scrutiny, now brands are being challenged on their track record on Black Lives Matter, support of frontline workers and the LGBT+ community. Suddenly, brands are being held to account and forced to dig deep and give substance to their rhetoric.
With over 500 Pride parades cancelled internationally this year, Pride month went digital. As before limited-edition rainbow themed collections appeared, however, many brands chose alternative ways to support the LGBT+ community.
The statements of unity on social media were more intersectional and comprehensive to the Queer audience. Virtual experiences, supportive online resources and information hubs were made available by brands looking to align with Pride in a meaningful way. Companies capitalized on the push for social justice by tackling Pride Month head-on.
When done authentically, support harnesses brand loyalty from Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are, of the most, a politically driven group. A survey from Dynata earlier this month showed that LGBT+ consumers in the US were 1.4 times more likely to describe Pride initiatives as inauthentic. LGBT+ people want meaningful action. “Making donations or partnering with relevant nonprofits“ was seen as the most authentic action a brand could take.
Companies blatantly rainbow washing are shamed on social media. Movements around frontline workers, Black Lives Matter, and Pride will never be about a brand. Marginalized people are supported by community watchdogs and cultural critics, such as Diet Prada and GLAAD, who are quick to name and shame. Brands and companies must find authentic reasons to be present. Pride and LGBT+ awareness doesn’t just end on July 1. The BLM movement doesn’t end after justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of racial discrimination is served. These moments are not moments in time, they are borne from systemic problems that need continuous commitment to be dismantled. Being non-racist is not being anti-racist and being LGBT+ friendly is not the same as being an LGBT+ ally.
Brands that want to be involved in BLM conversations or Pride celebrations can have a seat at the table, but intersectional groups of marginalized LGBT+ people are not there to be propped up for a trending moment. All brands should ask themselves is racial, gender and queer equality represented in our values and actions? If not, brands must re-present themselves and maintain their position after the noise has died down. The internet does not forgive or forget.
Brands with multiple platforms, economic resources, and innovative marketing can transform. If a company has Pride, it should show its purpose. Now is the time for brands to lift up the voices of marginalized people within the LGBT+ community, especially those who are Black. Ask Black trans individuals, queer disabled people, gay homeless youth, queer senior citizens without a family (and the many organizations that work endlessly for this community) to talk their truth as it relates to a brand's story. By allowing opinions to form and emerge from a brand platform, it will impact not only the audience perspective but the industry’s too.
Live-streaming has thrived of late, and NYC Pride and GLAAD were quick to create appropriate programming. Black Queer Town Hall was a three-day event streamed live across social media, featuring Black Drag performances raising funds for Black and LGBT+ organizations. It also emphasized the intersection of race and queerness by hosting a number of roundtable discussions. Brands can learn from organizations like GLAAD and NYC Pride, who joined forces to bring Pride 2020 to life. Pride and racial justice are not mutually exclusive. Brands should join the conversation on racial justice. There is an opportunity to re-evaluate where brands can make a difference above and beyond a snappy campaign.
“This year when many LGBT+ people will be unable to gather at large Pride events, it's so important that brands, notables, and other allies find authentic and creative ways to show that they stand with our community,“ said GLAAD President and chief executive officer Sarah Kate Ellis.
Now that Pride month is officially over, brands must showcase how they bring intersectional meaning to their claims ongoing. GLAAD collaborated with FOX's ‘#TVForAll‘ campaign to stage a June 22 Zoom dialogue with team members exploring the convergence of Black Lives Matter in entertainment and LGBT+ culture. Brands that are willing to own tough conversations on race, gender, and sexuality will be rewarded, and that goes triple with younger demographics. A customer experience survey by PSFK in 2018 found that 93% of consumers demand brands to be purpose-led or values-driven.
Brands must show up with introspection, realization and community at its forefront each and every day. The internet never forgets. So if you want to be a real brand leader, take up space within a social movement and lead with purpose or be gone.
Brian P Kelly, senior strategist at Cult