RIDING THE RAINBOW: HOW SHOULD MARKETERS ASSOCIATE WITH PRIDE?
Saturday saw Pride in London take over the capital’s streets – it was Britain’s biggest Pride event to date, with more than a million people attending the colourful parade, and it marked 50 years since the Stonewall riots which changed the course of gay activism. The event is a fitting finale for Pride Month, which recognises the aforementioned riots and celebrates LGBT+ communities across the world.
Yet even socio-political movements cannot escape the touch of the corporate hand in the age of capitalism. During Pride Month, countless brands ‘ride the rainbow’*. From M&S launching an LGBT (Lettuce, Guacamole, Bacon & Tomato) Sandwich to Listerine releasing a rainbow-coloured mouthwash bottle, and Pret re-naming its Love Bar to mark the occasion, Pride has never been so easy to consume, whilst global corporations’ branded floats dominated the parade. It has prompted some to ask the question: are we losing the meaning of the movement when Pride becomes monetised?
It’s undoubtedly a risky move for brands to jump on the bandwagon when criticism can come from all angles. One Twitter user commented on the Listerine packaging: “I’m so f**king tired of companies just chucking a rainbow on their sh** to sell to us as if it means something”, whilst M&S has received bad press for not donating proceeds from its sandwich sales directly to LGBT+ groups**. Years & Years frontman and prolific activist Olly Alexander recently Instagrammed a photo of an email he’d received from a PR, asking him to share a post of the brands’ ‘amazing Pride collection’ – it appeared to be a BCC email with no brand name included and no mention of any donations going towards LGBT+ causes, much to his disgust.
That’s not to say that companies cannot run impactful campaigns in support of LGBT+ rights. Ben & Jerry's has shown relevance by incorporating LGBT issues into its long term marketing strategy, rebranding two of its flavours in support of same-sex marriage this year in countries where the issue had come to the political fore, and when Australia didn't legalize same-sex marriage, it took a stand by refusing to sell same-flavour double scoops in stores in the country***.
Similarly, brands that are considered in their approach to Pride steer themselves away from looking exploitative. ASOS and LGBT+ media organization GLAAD have collaborated on a collection that steers clear of using the rainbow flag entirely, instead focusing on designs that appeal to a wider demographic than the LGBT+ community alone****. Importantly, these collections are also available year-round, not just churned out in June and relegated to sales racks weeks after Pride month is over.
The lesson for brands? Always be authentic, credible and think long-term strategy not short-term gains. Take a step back and think about the real meaning of Pride – because LGBT+ issues go way deeper than a cursory rainbow flag printed on a mouthwash bottle.
- Claire Eden, Senior Account Manager