The Dos and Don’ts of Pride Campaigns

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Gemma Elgar

Digital Content Specialist

During Pride Month every June, it’s now become commonplace for brands to blanket their social profiles with rainbows and launch Pride-related campaigns.

It is, of course, a mark of progress that the masses want to acknowledge Pride month and show their allyship towards the LGBTQ+ community. But the commercialisation of such a thing can sometimes feel belittling, and appear inconsistent with other activity that organisations get up to during the other 11 months of the year.

It’s easy for Pride to be seen as a party, and while it is a celebration of the love and acceptance the community have found, it’s also important to remember that Pride is, at its heart and at its origin, an acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ history, and a protest for the work that still needs to be done.

The problem in this arises when this support is an inconsistent message; when companies are perfectly happy to put a rainbow on their Twitter icon for one month, and then actively work against progress for the LGBTQ+ community elsewhere, throughout the rest of the year.

It’s this inconsistency and oftentimes laziness when it comes to LGBTQ+ marketing campaigns that puts strain on the relationship between brands and the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, the difficult history between the two dates back as far as the 1970s.

olly alexander on Instagram

The History of Branding and the LGBTQ+ Community

One of the pivotal moments in branding versus the LGBTQ+ community came in the early 1970s with a boycott against Coors Brewing Company.

The Coors family conducted discriminatory practices against non-white workers, women’s rights groups and LGBT activists. Such practices included the use of polygraph testing of Coors’ employees, in which they would ask whether they were homosexual among other personally private questions about themselves, including political affiliations.

In retaliation, the LGBTQ+ community joined the already-existing boycott against Coors, forcing them to address and include minority groups by working with minority companies and hiring minority workers by the 1980s. The workers’ strike began in 1977 and went on for more than 20 months, although communities continued to boycott the brand until the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) called an official end to it in 1987.

Pseudo-Support from Brands

LGBTQ+ representation is more important than ever in younger generations, with about 1 in 6 Gen Zers identifying as LGBTQ+.

Despite this, 4 in 10 young people still don’t feel that the community is accurately or fairly represented in advertising. This lack of trust could come down to the kind of inconsistent, insincere messaging that comes out around Pride month.

The most common example of pseudo-support that comes around every year during Pride month is the silent social media rainbow.

Known as virtue signalling, gestures like rainbow icons can often be how a brand tries to align themselves to the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month, without actually doing anything to support them.

In some cases, brands will go as far as to actively act against the interest of LGBTQ+ rights when it best suits them to do so. @JuddLegum on Twitter put together a particularly striking thread on this matter, listing a series of big-name brands with rainbow social icons during Pride months and juxtaposing that with how much they have donated to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians since 2021.

Companies as big as Verizon, Home Depot, and Walmart fall, perhaps unsurprisingly, under this category. According to Forbes, these brands are among many who donated hundreds of thousands to politicians who campaign against the equality act.

We also see this lack of consistency in brands’ social media accounts across different countries. Oftentimes, brands will show their support for the LGBTQ+ community for audiences where it’s legal to do so, and will abstain in those where it’s not. Needless to say, this hypocrisy signifies a lack of genuine support, as those who advocate for LGBTQ+ rights genuinely should be doing so across all countries, maybe even especially in those where there’s the most progress still to be made.

Eric on Twitter

Another example of virtue signalling often comes in the form of completely irrelevant Pride social media campaigns, most commonly as a rainbow and a message on something that doesn’t properly align with the mission.

Take Listerine’s rainbow bottle, for example, that didn’t even label the Pride colours’ meanings correctly. Indigo should traditionally represent serenity, not harmony, and turquoise is magic and art, not peace.

Source: Listerine

Similarly, Uber Eats faced backlash after creating and sharing images of pride flags made from sandwiches, with the main response being: what does this achieve, or even mean?

Uber Eats on Twitter

Successful LGBTQ+ Campaign Ideas

With all this talk around what not to do, here’s one of the brands getting their relationship with the LGBTQ+ community right: Levi’s.

For Pride month 2022, Levi’s released a size inclusive and genderless clothing line, with designs inspired by signs and posters of LGBTQ+ liberation. The campaign page quotes, ‘Change continues with you. The voice you use. The way you dress. Your very existence. This season, we celebrate LGBTQ+ activism – in all its manifestations’. Even the phrasing of this campaign hits the mark better than many others, showing an understanding of Pride month by claiming to celebrate ‘activism’.

Now that Levi’s have proven their clothing can be gender and size inclusive, we eagerly await the day this is rolled out to all their lines for true inclusivity, but this is a fantastic start. And what Levi’s get right where other brands fall short, is that they maintain and update their approach of allyship; they address specific issues within the community, rather than falling victim to a generalised ‘LGBTQ+ Rights’ campaign.

In 2021, for example, Levi’s specifically looked at genderless clothing, but did their research first. They acknowledged that genderless fashion is typically more masculine leaning, so decided to steer their campaign towards more feminine designs.

The clothing company also makes an annual donation of $100,000 to OutRightAction International.

Levi’s® Pride | Levi’s® GB

The most successful cause related marketing examples, however, and the most important way of being successful in your branding, is to simply be inclusive year-round. One brand that gets this right is Harry’s razors, whose main ad includes a man with top surgery scars, over which runs the phrase ‘you can shave to feel like you’.

The easiest way to ensure that your Pride campaign doesn’t look like a gimmick, is to not make it a gimmick. By proving their support to the LGBTQ+ community all twelve months of the year, any kind of specific Pride month campaign that brands make will be sure to come across as far more genuine.

Doing It for the Right Reasons

While it’s undeniably nice that so much space is being given over to LGBTQ+ support in the modern day, there’s still a long way that this can go in terms of the way it’s used. Although many brands are showing their support, their intentions are often questionable; it’s all too common for brands to use Pride month to support their own products, rather than the other way round.

Pride is about far more than limited edition rainbow water bottles or a temporary Twitter icon. There’s still progress to be made for the rights and safety of the LGBTQ+ community, and to do so, both brands and individuals must continue to remember the past events that started it all, especially so if they plan to make it a feature of their marketing during an allocated time of protest, celebration, and remembrance.  

When creating their digital PR, brands need to remain empathetic and compassionate, particularly when their campaigns directly address or affect a specific community. This, and keeping consistent in their inclusivity and support across their channels and throughout the year.

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Gemma Elgar

Digital Content Specialist

Gemma completed her BA in English Lit at the University of Birmingham where she did a lot of work with Redbrick, the student newspaper. This started her along the path of content writing as a profession. Her first industry job after graduating was at Liberty as a Junior Content Specialist. Her favourite part of her…

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