Pride 2021: Tokenistic campaigns just won’t fly anymore

Written by Beth Davies

Tags: advertising brands campaign communications creative marketing social media

June is Pride Month, a time for celebrating the diverse accomplishments, identities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. With 2020 seeing the queer community face a disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it is perhaps more important than ever for us to show our support and allyship.

Over the years, Pride has become an opportunity for brands to express their support for equal rights and representation, investing heavily in sponsorships, ads, and pride-themed products. But we know consumers are turning a critical eye to the companies they buy from, and brands need to go further than just wrapping merchandise up in rainbow packaging and calling it a day.

So-called ‘rainbow washing’ or ‘pink washing’ is too often the route that organisations take, and many major brands haven’t maintained a consistent enough relationship with LGBTQ+ communities to last Pride Month without some scrutiny. To be honest, it can be a difficult to hold back the cynicism, when even Pret rebrands as ‘Pride a Manger’.

Some 2021 Pride campaigns have certainly struck the wrong chord. Take Bud Light, which brought out an advert replacing the letters in the acronym LGBTQ with ‘Let’s Grab Beers Tonight, Queens’. An ad that erases identities in favour of selling beer, surely had to be designed without any queer people in the room. Also attracting criticism is Skittles, for its attempt at meaningful action which consisted of donating a portion of product proceeds to the media advocacy group, GLAAD. The problem? Skittles limited donations to less than 0.03% of sales during Pride month. 2020 brought with it an increased focus on diversity and inclusion, and tokenistic marketing just won’t fly anymore.

Campaigns that acknowledge the lived experience of queer people over the pandemic have found more success. US company SodaStream has worked with actress and trans advocate Laverne Cox for a campaign that centres on personal stories from queer communities, anchored by an animated film titled Rainbow Story. The brand is amplifying tales of personal triumph and major milestones for LGBTQ+ rights, while promoting its limited-edition sparkling water kit of the same name, and a percentage of proceeds is being donated to ILGA World, an international LGBTQ+ NGO.

Virgin Radio UK has been praised for its launch of Virgin Radio Pride UK, which is broadcasting from 7th June to the end of September. The new station seeks to reduce inequality by addressing ‘important issues in the core of programming’ and sparking conversations on topics such as trans rights, gap adoption issues, and living with HIV. The station is fronted by LGBTQ+ presenters, is supporting local Pride celebrations, and partnering with charities including The Food Chain, which ensures people living with HIV in London can access the nutrition they need.

It’s clear that true support and allyship needs to come from more than a rainbow-themed post on social media. Companies that launch Pride campaigns need to include LGBTQ+ voices in planning wherever possible, lead messaging with commitments to real change, and expect questions about how their policies demand inclusivity all year round.

We’ve spoken about this in many different contexts, but the best thing brands can do is be authentic and purposeful. Pride should be used to amplify LGBTQ+ voices to enact real change, rather than mere celebration or solidarity.

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