Pandering To Pride – Nothing To Be Proud Of
With June marking 50 years since the New York Stonewall Riots that changed the course of LGBTQ+ history, Pride 2019 gained a lot of extra traction & so too, did the brands aligning themselves with the event. Pride has become bigger business than ever before. Research by Reboot Online reveals that 29 percent of companies running a Pride campaign in 2019 have never done so previously. It also discloses that only 64 percent of companies running a Pride campaign donate to an LGBTQ+ charity – a damning revelation which confirms skeptics’ concerns over increasing commercialization of the Pride movement.
Why Is This Important/A Cause For Concern?
Asad Dhunna, Director of Communications for Pride in London answers this question succinctly:
“In the time we live in and with the far right on the rise, we need brands to move the conversation from one day a year to 365.”
Life & Death
Although the decriminalization of anti-sodomy laws is trending upwards globally, there are still 11 countries that prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality. And despite tireless campaigning by transgender rights activists, it was only in June 2018 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) re-categorized being transgender from a “mental disorder” to a sexual health condition.
Such examples illustrate why ‘Pride’ should be viewed as much more than a parade for brands to tap into, as the cause which underpins the parade deals with issues of life and death.
A business case can be made for cause-based marketing – despite the risk involved. A study conducted by the Data and Marketing Association last year found 86% of consumers said authenticity was important when deciding what brands they like and support.
At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Unilever CEO Alan Jope discussed how “woke-washing” — the practice of brands launching purpose-driven campaigns, but failing to take real action — threatens to “infect” the advertising industry:
“It threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply”
His statement is borne out by Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer Special Report. Although consumers long for brands to be socially responsible, they are not naive, so while 81 percent of consumers admitted to considering brand trust in their purchasing decisions, only 34 percent actually trust the brands they buy from. Furthermore, 53 percent of consumers suspect that brands “trustwash,” or aren’t as committed to society as they profess.
As brand trust is having more influence on consumers’ purchase decisions, adoption of ad blockers is also on the increase, making the delivery of marketing messages more challenging. Against such a backdrop, building trust with consumers should not be taken lightly by brands.
How It Should Be Done
When a Twitter user expressed disappointment with the deodorant brand for not supporting a Straight Pride Parade in Boston as follows:
“Good to know you don’t support straight people. How very uninclusive and intolerant of you. My straight son and my straight partner have decided to no longer use your products, since you don’t support them. I’m glad, because I think @Axe smells like garbage. #stayoutofpolitics”
Axe didn’t hesitate to respond to the keyboard warrior:
“Gay rights are human rights but go off jill”
For brands to be perceived as credible, invested supporters of a community they must be seen to be engaging with relevant issues consistently, even when there’s no prospect of financial gain.
Ben & Jerry’s
The ice cream brand demonstrated a commitment to LGBTQ+ issues & incorporated these into their marketing in a meaningful way. Firstly, they re-branded two of their flavors in support of same-sex marriage. Chubby Hubby was renamed Hubby Hubby, to coincide with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Vermont. Similarly, their apple pie flavored ice cream was re-branded as Apple-y Ever After when same-sex marriage was up for debate in the U.K.
Secondly, when in 2017, Australia opted not to legalize same-sex marriage, the brand took a stand by refusing to sell same-flavour double scoops in stores in the country.
This year the drinks brand is bringing volunteers from Soho Angels (an initiative it sponsors all year round, which enlists a team of specially trained volunteers to keep the LGBTQ+ community safe at night) to Pride to safeguard onlookers.
Stephen Brown – global marketing manager – advises brands to simply:
“Take it out of season”
He uses the example of a classic product launch to make his point:
“If you’re launching a product and there are two people kissing within that product shot, do they have to be straight? It’s very simple, it’s just representation rather than it’s a gay advert.”
The Sincerity Problem
As with other high-profile movements, some brands view World Pride Month as an opportunity to display their ‘woke’ credentials and prove their commitment to more than their bottom line. But therein lies the rub. By engaging with sensitive topics outside their usual remit, advertisers open themselves up to accusations of insincerity and virtue signalling.
At the heart of the commercialization of Pride lies a disconnect, the crux of which is that brands promoting gay pride & the LGBTQ+ community or purporting to do so are not always consistent in actually lending support to the causes they align themselves with, despite profiting by association.
In the wider sense, the practice of donating money to LGBTQ+ charities is a positive thing. But this consumerist donation structure also engenders slacktivism, whereby brands and consumers alike can lend support to social and political causes in a non-committal fashion.
Similarly, the money that companies make selling products to consumers seeking an easy way to help with a complex issue rarely results in tangible change – excluding profit for the companies themselves. Likewise, some companies who are promoting LGBTQ+ Pride — and ostensibly cashing in on Pride merchandise or retail — don’t display much follow through, aside from perpetuating the vague notion of “awareness” around issues that affect that community.
Brands Which Missed The Mark
As part of a partnership with British LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, the clothing company designed a range of Pride merchandise which allocated 20% of proceeds to the charity – not Pride. This move garnered criticism, leading many to ask why cash-strapped local Pride organisers were being overlooked. Steve Taylor, the co-founder of the UK Pride Network also highlighted the inherent hypocrisy of the brand manufacturing the shirts in Turkey and Bangladesh – countries where LGBTQ+ rights are heavily suppressed, and homosexuality is illegal.
Adidas devoted a section of its website to sales of rainbow merchandise called the “pride pack”. But it was also a lead sponsor for the 2018 World Cup, which took place in Russia, a country with anti-LGBTQ+ laws which made it unsafe for fans and athletes. That contradiction threw into sharp relief the emptiness that can lie at the center of corporate gestures of “support” for the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite replacing their signature red cups with limited edition rainbow versions to ‘celebrate’ Pride, Costa will not be donating any profits to LGBTQ+ charities, nor does their campaign have a meaningful message to do with Pride or LGBTQ+ efforts. This is an example of profiting from rather than celebrating Pride.
Such instances of blatant opportunism have resulted in a backlash. Dissatisfied with the Pride March descending from a political protest into a bloated parade, a segment of the gay community has organized a competing procession for the same day called the Queer Liberation March, modeled on the first gay rights parade that came in the wake of the 1969 police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.
The upstart march has the support of 150 gay and other advocacy organizations and is attracting participants who believe that the Pride March no longer speaks to the urgent needs of the LGBTQ+ community, said Bill Dobbs of the Reclaim Pride Coalition, which is organizing the alternative march.
Perhaps the most complex problem with supporting the LGBTQ+ community is knowing where to lend support. There isn’t one clear goal as myriad objectives vie for attention & funding. The commercialization of Pride Month further complicates this situation by reducing the complex landscape of LGBTQ+ issues to an easy-to-support — and therefore easier to sell — concept of “awareness.”