With Pride month finally here, people everywhere are celebrating LGBTQ+ rights and how far they have come. With big brands like Barclays, AT&T and Smirnoff using the month to show their support of LGBTQ+ communities, sometimes it is hard to remember how far we still have to go before true equality is reached. Showing social conscientiousness is a great way to connect with consumers and even expand your audience, however, when support seems like an empty gesture (looking at you Pepsi) – it can backfire.
When brands have a genuine message of support and inclusivity surrounding a social issue it has gained positive attention online, so it seems like a no-brainer that brands should be showcasing their social conscientiousness by demonstrating their support for movements like Pride.
Rainbow Capitalism And The Pink Pound
As Pride grows in popularity, many brands have seemingly jumped on the bandwagon in order to exploit the “Pink Pound”- a name coined to describe the spending power of the LGBTQ+ community. Companies who make vacuous declarations of affinity to profit from Pride can be accused of Rainbow Capitalism: capitalising on the popularisation of Pride for monetary gain whilst being void of genuine support.
Recently there was a huge social media backlash when it was revealed that Airbus would be sponsoring Bristol Pride. The controversy arose over Airbus manufacturing the wing for planes for the Turkish military, who have a pivotal role in the extremely homophobic AKP government. It is impossible not see the company’s attempt to display support for Pride as a conflict of interest, as well being guilty of jumping on the bandwagon to exploit the “Pink Pound”.
Similarly, Urban Outfitters has been accused of exploiting Pride for monetary gain. This year the fashion retailers released a “Happy Pride” collection despite the fact that the company’s CEO has donated to the unapologetically homophobic politician Rick Santorum, who equates gay marriage as an atrocity on par with the terrorist attack on 9/11, which killed more than 2996 people. Urban Outfitters also stocked greeting cards with transphobic slurs and – perhaps unsurprisingly considering the CEO’s political alliances- pulled a line of t shirts supporting gay marriage.
Showing support for Pride obviously resonates well with young people, however, in an age where anyone can access any information about your company at any time, it is imperative that any declarations of allegiance with a cause are genuine and untainted by the company’s past actions.
One example of a company whose support for Pride proved successful, is Skittles. For two years running, Skittles, which is famous for its “Touch the rainbow, Taste the rainbow” tagline, has removed all colour from its packaging during Pride month because “This Pride, only one rainbow matters”. The company wrote an open letter to Pride:
“You have the rainbow … we have the rainbow … and usually that’s just hunky-dory. But this Pride, only one rainbow deserves to be the center of attention – yours. And we’re not going to be the ones to steal your rainbow thunder. That’s why this weekend, we’re giving up our rainbow. But don’t worry, we’ll still be there to celebrate every colourful minute with you, we’ll just be completely starkers while we do it. Have a great day, Pride. From Skittles.”
Not only is this a great way for a company to show support for a social issue without taking the limelight, Skittles also donated money to an LGBTQ+ charity for every rainbowless packet brought. Skittles put their money where their mouth is, rather than performing an empty gesture to drive sales.
The open letter was turned into a viral video which promoted the hashtag, #onerainbow, and rainbowless packets were sent to various influencers to boost involvement. This resulted in the campaign being talked about in over 80 countries and 339 cities, creating a 470 per cent increase in brand buzz. The fully integrated campaign drove 31m impressions, of which over half were organic. The campaign was picked up by major publications such as The Mirror, LAD Bible, GQ, and Pride itself.
The campaign was so successful that Tesco approached Skittles to work together on a limited edition packet in 2017 -selling over three million- which again contributed profits to LGBTQ charities. Skittles also won best newcomer award at the Pride in London parade. A perfect example of how social consciousness can have a hugely positive effect both on brand perception and digitally.
One way to show genuine social awareness, is to recognise an issue that relates to your company and bring it to light through a campaign. A great example of this in the digital world is Destination Pride. Canadian charity PFLAG recognised that those who identify as LGBTQ+ are often prevented from participating in activities that in the cis-gendered community wouldn’t be given a second thought. For example, going on holiday as a couple.
In the UK, gender identity laws, marriage equality laws, and anti-discrimination laws are slowly becoming more concrete. We recently passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, have introduced legislation to protect LGBTQ+ against hate speech, and are even debating lowering the age in which people can begin transitioning gender. Obviously, even in the UK we still have a long way to go, but with so many civil liberties becoming the norm in our culture, it’s easy to forget that in some countries it’s not so easy. A recent article from The Independent reported that whilst 84 per cent of straight couples were happy to engage in public displays of affection this was only true for five per cent of LGBTQ+ couples. Unfortunately, these fears do not seem to be unprecedented; a third of those asked said that when they had engaged in PDA that they had been publicly shamed, verbally abused, or in some way made to feel uncomfortable.
This is just the tip of the iceberg; in some countries being gay is still illegal. Therefore the simple act of going on holiday with your partner, a luxury which many cis-gendered people take for granted, can have severe consequences – even being punishable by death. That’s where Destination Pride comes in.
Destination Pride is a digital search platform that allows users to view the tolerance levels from a number of different countries for LGBTQ+ issues. Users can simply type in a destination and a rainbow infographic will pop up displaying all the relevant information.
Each coloured bar of the rainbow flag represents a different issue; marriage equality, sexual activity laws, gender identity laws, anti-discrimination laws, civil rights and liberties and social media sentiment, and the length of the bar determines a country’s tolerance of that issue. For example, the purple bar, representing social media sentiment, tests real time positive and negative sentiments on social media to provide a snapshot of public acceptance. The algorithm collects global data across five key metrics which when combined create single numerical scores for each destination.
Destination Pride created over 100 unique Facebook Campaigns running in 46 languages in 92 countries, each of these campaigns hijacked relevant news events; for example equality laws being passed, or acts of discrimination being committed. In one month, Destination Pride engaged users in 150 of the world’s 195 countries and became the most shared platform in PFLAG’s history. The data visualisation platform has already sparked debate online from tourist boards, politicians and celebrities.
Travel for the LGBTQ+ community has becoming a growing concern, so tools like these are (unfortunately) increasingly necessary. Not only is this digital platform useful and in some cases vital for those who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella to travel safely, but the Destination Pride website also acts as an educational tool for cis-gender communities. The site has an option for every country you search to “raise this flag”, which will share the statistics of the chosen destination on social media, therefore bringing to light issues that may have otherwise gone unnoticed and giving people the opportunity to get involved in change.
Find out more about Destination Pride in their video.
Practise What You Preach
Supporting a social issue is a great way for your brand to connect with new audiences and show social responsibility, but caution is key. This generation of internet users are politically and digitally savvy, they can recognise a false sentiment and lack of actual support, and have the tools and skills to check brand history at their fingertips. So how can your company show support for Pride and other social concerns successfully?
Rather than producing a rainbow filter or a “love is love” mug, find a real way to make a difference, and above all, do your research. Ensure that your support doesn’t conflict with any of your brand’s past or existing political alliances and really try to evaluate from a neutral perspective how a socially conscientious message from your brand will be perceived. The successful campaigns outlined above have been well received because their pride-focused strategies tie into their existing core messages – so before you dive head first into a Pride parade, evaluate what social issues tie in with your brand’s message and be genuine.