Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Pride. On the one had that means celebrations of LGBTQ+ rights, on the other it means a cacophony of brands cashing in on rainbows and #LoveIsLove slogans.
Is corporate opportunism validated by the positive impact it has for the LGBTQ+ community, or is brand involvement damaging the cause they’re profiting from?
The Case for Brands
A fundamental marketing principle is that to drive conversion (sales), the majority of budget goes behind reaching new people and generating awareness of your product/service. [Byron Sharp ref] The same principle applies for increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities and rights. To impact change you need to speak to new people, maximising the reach of your message and volume you can potentially impact with it. As such, with every storefront dripping with rainbows, every person seeing, purchasing and exposed to worn/used/eaten/etc products increases the reach and impact of the Pride and LGBTQ+ message. It can be argued that without brand involvement, the movement wouldn’t have progressed as quickly as it has done in recent years.
Whilst things have progressed in a lot of places there’s still much to do. Amongst many stats showing the worrying state of LGBTQ+ acceptance, one in five employees have experienced bullying at the workplace for being LGBTQ+ . Having companies actively show support helps begin to tackle these issues and address people’s attitudes generally. Whilst some may see brands and businesses only more outwardly during Pride season, many are taking LGBTQ+ issues very seriously and doing great work every day; you just don’t see it. Pride is simply the best time and opportunity to shout about the support companies are giving in a way that others can see.
Part of how companies are supporting Pride and the LGBTQ+ community is financial. Whilst brands may indeed profit from Pride products, often a proportion of this revenue goes to LGBTQ+ charities and initiatives that sorely need the money to operate an impact in ways these large brands simply can’t. This benefit extends to include Pride itself. Many Prides have now grown to a state where they can’t exist without brand funding. So seeing a Lynx tent should be seen as brands helping Pride exist as we know it today, not just opportunism.
Overall brands are a key part of supporting and furthering the LGBTQ+ message and agenda. Without brands, Pride simply couldn’t exist.
Example of Pride branded products found at www.superdrug.com ( June 2018)
The Case Against Brands
A movement originating from the Stonewall riots in 1969, Pride has had the furthering of LGBTQ+ rights at its core from the start. Whilst always intended as a positive celebration, brands increasingly monetising the event has diverted attention from genuine political lobbying and made it…. basic.
Plastering rainbows on every product and shop window possible has created a maelstrom of faux support, where brands appear to back a cause without actually doing/saying anything. If you’re in London right now, wander round Soho and you’ll see for yourself.
This generic support style has gradually rubbed off on people. Though none are ill intentioned, attending Pride is now more about festival wear, facepaint and a selfie with a drag queen than activism and change, when the stats show the LGBTQ+ community is far from equal. Unfortunately brand invasion has helped diminish the biggest annual LGBTQ+ platform to the occasional whoop of well intended but actionless crowd support as we all sip our rainbow emblazoned Pimms.
Brand involvement has grown so rapidly over the last few years because of one large reason. It’s become profitable in key consumer markets. Not always the case, now in the US ⅓ people being behind an LGBTQ+ supporting brand vs ⅕ against . This isn’t a bad thing, but it indicates why it’s brands are seeing it as safe enough now to get behind. Hitting sales targets. Long term supporters like Ben and Jerry’s I applaud you. Others? Where’s my shame bell?
But I do get it. Companies are there to make money and grow in an increasingly complex consumer marketplace. This would be more acceptable if support and backing had some level of consistency and genuine commitment. Creating 1-2 month long ‘Limited Edition’ products, denoted by little more than a rainbow sticker is far from it. Outwardly supporting the LGBTQ+ community only over Pride ‘season’ indicates their opportunism and lack of genuine commitment. Additionally, for a cause that at its heart is about human rights, and in many countries, lives, it can be seen to be insulting.
While some (not all) will admittedly apportion a percentage of their profits (not revenue) from Pride products to worthy charitable causes, this is usually a token 5-10%. If brands are serious about helping a cause, be more consistent and genuine with your support. Be an ongoing backer of a cause instead of flitting between trendy charities, and show your seriousness by a willingness to sacrifice more than a mere pittance.
Overall, through rainbow-washing and tokenistic support, brands have crippled the essence of Pride and insultingly commercialised the LGBTQ+ agenda.
With products, sponsorships and ad campaigns, brands are putting millions into their involvement with Pride. This amplification of the LGBTQ+ message is reaching and impacting people around the world. However commercialisation of Pride has meant the impact is often now more trivial and superficial. What has a serious human rights issue at its heart has become more of a yearly fashion and #selfie opportunity than time for inciting change.
Brands should provide more genuine support to the LGBTQ+ (or any) cause. Being authentic in their efforts instead of merely plastering products with rainbows. This may mean being more politically vocal and potentially polarising, but both the LGBTQ+ cause and the brand will benefit from showing real support.
Be always on, avoid ethically insulting ‘limited edition’s, and accept making more serious financial contributions to a cause the brand has seen as worthy of serious support. With ethical consumerism rapidly rising , true commitment shall increasingly benefit both the business and the cause more so.
Both sides of the coin have validity in their arguments, with no clear and simple answer or solution. Questions on the role for brands and businesses shall continue to arise with each Pride that passes. Whilst there shall be no real ‘winner’ between business and Pride, is the LGBTQ+ community gradually losing? You decide.
Owen Lee (In: @oven121)