Corporations are ‘slaying’ Pride month in all the wrong ways
Pride Month is a time for celebration, acceptance and jubilation. But brands’ willingness to embrace this time has long hit the wrong note. Radel Huley, associate copywriter at Jack Morton, considers how marketers can review their Pride practices to avoid doing more harm than good.
Jack Morton questions how brands can improve their offerings around Pride Month
June means only one thing: Pride Month. This means it’s time for companies to add a rainbow flag to their logos and sell Pride merchandise, regardless of their monetary or actionable support of the LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirited, plus) community.
I should clarify that I don’t hate this merchandise. I, too, own a rainbow Ikea bag that just holds other reusable bags. It’s just strange that this trend became popular at the same time it became profitable. Some could call it hypocritical. In fact, since 2018, 25 major corporations that sponsored Pride parades and rainbow-washed their logos also donated over $13.2m combined to anti-LGBTQIA2+ politicians. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Of course, neither of these things are what Pride is about. Over 50 years ago, when police were raiding gay bars like the Stonewall Inn in NYC, arresting and brutalizing patrons, a community fought back against confrontation, building the bricks of the Pride Movement. Since then, Pride has evolved from a protest into a party. A place where people across the rainbow spectrum – like my emotionally-exhausted, disabled, bisexual self – should be able to celebrate themselves after years of fighting for that freedom.
Unfortunately, this party is also where many corporations insert themselves for financial gain. Pride parades went from being a celebration of free expression to a ticketed event, with VIP passes in LA and NYC selling for as much as $3,000. And that’s where the problem lies. Because despite public outcry, there is still no freedom or safety for so many people in the queer/trans communities, particularly the Black trans and gender non-conforming community. Since 2018, nearly 670 anti-LGBTQIA2S+ bills have been filed by state legislators, and over half of them are anti-trans bills.
From the military to meatpackers and leading telecom companies, this year we’ve seen brands ‘yassifying’ their branding to appeal to queer audiences and allies. Many of them use the month to capitalize off of LGBTQIA2+ symbolism and score earned media, all in the name of ‘awareness.’
I doubt there’s a consumer out there who’s wholly unaware of queerness. But I do believe there are many in search of visibility that can’t be found in Pride merchandise and 10% of proceeds. As much as I joke, I don’t feel seen when Burger King uses two top buns or two bottoms on a Whopper. I also believe that so many Pride campaigns lack what the LBGTQIA2S+ community is yearning for, because very little time and money (and creative representation) is devoted to these causes, making any action feel like an afterthought.
So how do we fix this as marketers? Is there a checklist to ensure that our intention matches our impact and that we’re not just projecting rainbow capitalism? You can’t spell Pride Month without demon, so just remember to be P.U.R.E. – Prioritize, Understand, Rally and Extend.
Before taking on a Pride project, consider how much time/money is allocated for it. If the answer is not much for both, consider if Pride initiatives are truly for the LGBTQIA2S+ community, or if Pride is just a show. The LGBTQIA2S+ community is the fastest-growing minority segment in the US, with nearly $1.4tn in spending power, so if your brand isn’t prioritizing this audience, it’s a missed opportunity.
The history of Pride is a protest, and some are hoping to reclaim it as such with the Queer Liberation March as Pride grows increasingly corporate, including marching cops and branded floats. By understanding the history of Pride, you can help make sure that your efforts are amplifying the queer community rather than appropriating it. Grow your knowledge of the political, social and socioeconomic challenges facing the LGBTQIA2S+ community and use your brand’s platform to address these pain points. For example, Target partnered with Tomboy X to sell binders and packing underwear, making it possible for trans and gender non-conforming individuals to easily obtain gender-affirming clothing.
Rally for and amplify
Are you including LBGTQIA2S+ colleagues in the campaign conversation? This should include inception, creation, promotion and execution. Do your vendors have inclusive internal cultures, such as gender-neutral restrooms, pronoun inclusion in emails, and employer-sponsored gender-affirming care? Is the product made by people who feel safe being a part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community? These are all questions you should ask.
How does your campaign extend past June? We don’t stop being queer July through May, so think about how you can support the community outside of Pride Month.
We’re here. We’re queer. The queer community recognizes brands that match intent to impact, and we’ll wholeheartedly stand by if you continue to not only see and accept us, but be a platform for our voices. And we will also shout from the rooftops when your Pride campaigns exist for sheer profit and stakeholder approval, while allowing bills to pass that silence and create violence against the LGBTQIA2S+ community. We may not be able to control rainbow capitalism, but we sure as heck can hope to improve the overall impact.
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