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Policies and meaningful purpose must be demonstrated in June and beyond.
With Pride is well underway, its important to note that while the advertising industry is filled with LGBTQ+ talent and attempts to reach the audience of the community, there is still much to be done in terms of creating inclusive environments and displaying authentic representation on and off screen.
According to data from the All In Census, 45% of LGBTQ+ people reported stress and anxiety compared to 31% industry average. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have been made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace (20% versus 13% of heterosexual people).
Exclusionary environments are detrimental to creativity and so in order for talent to feel comfortable and thrive, the industry must continue to make steps toward inclusion.
It has become a cliche of June that companies launch products or change Linkedin logos to a rainbow theme but it remains important that companies are visible and vocal about their commitments to change. For those seeking to truly be inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community, there must be meaningful action, policies and purpose behind the outward displays. It is simply not enough to capitalise on the rainbow once a year.
To consider how brands and agencies can show their commitment to the LGBTQ+ community throughout Pride month and beyond, we have asked experts how can brands and agencies ensure they avoid Pride Washing?
With Pride Month underway, brands and customers are gearing up for thirty days of rainbow flags, discounts and “Love is Love” slogans, but the trend of Pride Washing is sucking the joy out of our most colourful month of the year. It may feel like a minefield to avoid pride washing whilst celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community - but it can be done.
It’s crucial to acknowledge pride washing’s existence and fill up empty gestures. Don’t use LGBTQIA+ employees as props in content, it undermines the community. Don’t temporarily swap logos with Pride Flags or use ‘Pride’ merely to drive sales. This feels empty and lacks integrity. Authenticity is more important than ever, so it’s vital to reflect your brand’s allyship during the rest of the year too.
With Pride Washing, ignorance is not bliss and education is paramount. Why not book in unconscious bias training and speakers from the community to coach and inform your team? Implement long-term changes; instead of providing a small donation that makes up a percentage of profit during June, invest in LGBTQIA+ talent, offer equal pay, recruit LGBTQIA+ members and collaborate with charities for events and non-related campaigns.
Be aware of who your business is aligned with - look into the brands you work with, partners, stakeholders, and ensure they’re doing everything to support the community. Analyse your company and its history - take Ben and Jerry’s. They’ve always prioritised communicating their values. In 1989, they were the first major employer in Vermont to offer health insurance to partners of employees, including same sex couples, they’ve provided grants to PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays) since the 1990s, and they partnered with Stonewall to support marriage equality in the UK.
Commitment to causes should run deep in a business. This makes a difference and feels real. Whatever your company or brand does to support Pride Month, feed it into your messaging, your culture and apply it all year round, not just for the thirty days of June - and not for 30% off selected lines for a limited time only.
At its best, Pride Month is the time our LGBTQIA+ community really takes centre stage. We celebrate the culture, shine a spotlight on the battles we’re still fighting, educate allies on the nuances of different identities. At its worst, it’s the month brands vomit rainbows over every logo, app icon and avatar they can reach with a sparkly stick.
And we get it. Embracing Pride makes good business sense. Three out of four LGBTQ+ themed ads outperformed generic ads in brand recall. And 45% of consumers under 34 say they’re more likely to do repeat business with an LGBTQ+ friendly company.
But if you’re planning to profit from our community, you need to be prepared to put your rainbow where your mouth is. Use your platform to practice active allyship as a brand and encourage it from your non-LGBTQIA+ consumers. Raise awareness of the issues our community are still facing, and donate a portion of the money you make from our community back to our community. You might deck your logo in a rainbow for one month a year, but I’m queer all year round. What are you doing for your LGBTQIA+ audiences and employees for the other 11 months?
Because the truth is, we don’t need your rainbows. We need your leverage, your influence and your money. Just as much as you need ours.
Pride is as a protest. Sometimes a music and glitter filled protest, but a protest nonetheless. For many in the wider queer community, Pride is about reclaiming individual narratives from a society that tells them their lives shouldn’t publicly exist or doesn't deserve to altogether.
Hate crimes in the UK are on the rise. In 2016/17, there were 8,569 of these crimes recorded by police, but last year this figure was 17,135. Hate crimes against transgender people has risen from 1,195 to 2,630 over the same period - an increase of over 100%.
Within that context, does it make sense for an agency or brand to be ‘celebrating’ pride at all? The answer is dependent on the year-round actions of the organisation and the people within it. Visibility is important, but only if it’s backed-up with meaningful anti-bigotry, anti-homophobia, and anti-transphobia policy and actions. Full stop. Otherwise, they’re no better than an industrial polluter planting a ceremonial tree.
Can the organisation or brand look back on the previous year and say they have made meaningful and tangible progress for the wider LGBTQ+ community and/or their LGBTQ+ employees? If the answer is yes, then turn up the music, add that glitter, and join in. If the answer is no, then use your time and energy to support organisations who have championed meaningful and tangible progress.
Well, firstly, as obvious as it sounds, it is vital that brands don’t just campaign for Pride during Pride Month; showing year-round commitment to the LGBTQ+ community shows your brand is actually committed to supporting LGBTQ+ rights and that it’s not just a token gesture. If it turns out you do nothing to support the community or worse, actively support anti LGBTQ+ causes or polices, you will be called out on it and lose the right to be in the conversation.
It’s also important to ensure you have a diverse team behind these scenes of your campaign, as failing to do so can lead to tone-deaf comms. And as M&S has found out, it’s important to be ready to face backlash with a social media engagement strategy, with the tone of voice clear and some prepared responses. Fail to prepare: prepare to fail.
Pride-washing is often a result when brands or agencies attempt to join conversations without an authentic voice. In today’s world, if brands want to become an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, they must ensure that initiatives and campaigns are in tune with the community – it is an art of conversation that must be mastered between the brand and their audience. The nod towards pride-support is not a momentary ‘marketing ploy’ and if a brand uses rainbow flags or logos, they need to be able to prove their ongoing support and commitment to the LGBTQ+ community all year round. This community comprises of people who identify very differently, we need to be representative of all members of the community; this includes trans people that are often excluded from conversations within agencies and brands. Remember, we are people who have everyday lives, so we want to see our community depicted in normal and ordinary situations. Generate authentic conversations by listening to the members of the community, unlearn stereotypes, and commit to change.
On both a personal and professional level I find the commercialisation of Pride an uncomfortable conundrum. On the one hand, brands embracing the symbol of the Pride flag in their products and marketing does create an atmosphere of much needed acceptance and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community. On the other hand, their intentions aren’t always to support Pride but rather to profit from it. Consumers have become savvy to this difference.
Therefore, if you’re running a Pride campaign it boils down to three component parts: intention, authentication, and meaningful support. If sales are your motivation (which is fair enough) then how does this link to Pride? By purchasing your Pride products, are you encouraging people to attend Pride events, donate to LGBTQ+ charities, or get involved in their local queer community? Have you considered partnering with a relevant charity, publication or service which regularly supports LGBTQ+ people? Finally, how do you involve the community beyond the months of Pride? How deep does that support go at either a company or agency level?
For The Corner’s Pride campaign with our client LNER we are shining a spotlight on local Pride events, and championing individuals who are part of their community in key cities along the train line. The campaign focuses on the people of pride, rather than the brand, and has enlisted the support of Gay Times magazine to further champion the individuals celebrated in the campaign.
I could suggest all sorts of watchouts here. You know, things like: ‘be original’, ‘make sure you have queer people to help tell queer stories’, ‘don't just put a rainbow on your logo’.
But really, unless you have some proper skin in the game, just do nothing. Pride started with the Stonewall riots when Marsha P Johnson, a trans woman and trans-rights activist, was a key figure in standing up to the police in a brutal raid on the Stonewall Inn, 53 years ago in June 1969.
Trans women, like Marsha, fought alongside the wider queer community for many of the rights we have today. Right now those rights, especially for trans people, are being rapidly eroded, queer hate crimes are rising exponentially in most places and performative acts of corporate support aren't helping anyone.
Pride is a protest so stand with queer people all year-round. Step up to the picket line with long-term purpose. Think first about your organisational culture, how you are supporting queer people everyday. Do everything you can to create a better world for marginalised groups.
Once your house is in order then think about how you can do it with a voice, somewhere like pride. Commercial pride affiliations started with good intentions but they’ve really lost their way. We don't need brands to celebrate LGBTQIA+ people for a month each year, awareness alone isn't enough. We need long-term action to build a safer and more equitable world for all.
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