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How can you embrace Pride marketing with true purpose?

Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

It should be pretty obvious to any user of social media user that June is Pride Month, as nearly every corporate logo has taken on the pride colours!

2019 marks the 50 year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. In the early hours of 28th June 1969, the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan was subject to a police raid. This was followed by days of riots and an uprising against the police, led predominantly by trans women of colour activists such as Marsha P Johnson. The civil rights movement that followed led to the creation of ‘Gay Pride’, evolving into the Pride Month that is celebrated today.

There have been numerous examples in the last month to exemplify why Pride Month is still very much needed, but that perhaps we should be going back to its original roots of protest, rather than celebration:

There’s not much to celebrate when a lesbian couple on a London bus was recently beaten up by a group of young men for refusing to kiss in the name of male entertainment.

There’s not much to celebrate when the politicians of the UK are ‘debating’ and in some cases refuting the need for education on LGBT relationships in primary schools.

There’s not much to celebrate when there has recently been a surge of demands for a ‘Straight Pride’.

For more eye opening facts about the level of inequality the LGBT+ community still faces, read 15 rights LGBT people in the UK still don’t have, by Pink News.

There is some progress to celebrate, though:

Botswana and Ecuador have both recently legalised homosexuality

The World Health Organisation has finally decreed that transgender people are not mentally ill

More than 150 LGBT+ candidates were elected into office in the 2018 US midterm elections.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Let me be clear: I write this article primarily as a content marketer and secondarily, as an LGBT+ ally. As a marketer, I have certain values:

Customer-centricity. Authenticity. Storytelling.

It’s not my place to speak for the LGBT+ community. For this piece, I sought opinions from the community itself. Across various social channels and as a jump-off point, I asked the question:

“How do you feel about companies changing their corporate logo to the Pride flag?”

A few responses:

“I welcome companies supporting pride, but to be truly authentic it’s essential that it starts from grassroots.”

— Pete Badger, Sustainability Consultant at Stride Treglown

“I think it’s great as long as they support the community outside of just changing their logos for a month; donations, awareness campaigns, inclusive policies, etc. “

— Olivia Bushnell, Owner of Bushnell Community Solutions

“I think companies that do it while a) not actively doing anything to support the community or, b) actively hurting the community, ruin it. A logo change and a tweet of support, but no action, is co-opting a symbol of the largely marginalised and systemically discriminated community that have fought, some with their lives, for equality.”

— Hap Fiala, Co-founder of @queerpacklondon

Across the whole spectrum of responses, one viewpoint was a constant. It’s just not enough to change your logo to the Pride Flag and to blithely declare “We Support Pride”.

The history of the Pride movement and its flag is of resistance and empowerment. When it was created in the 70s, it was a symbol “the community could rally behind” states Out Magazine. Nothing has changed.

Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Pride Flag said:

“I thought of the American flag with its thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, the colonies breaking away from England to form the United States,” he wrote. “I thought of the vertical red, white, and blue tricolor from the French Revolution and how both flags owed their beginnings to a riot, a rebellion, or revolution. I thought a gay nation should have a flag too, to proclaim its own idea of power.”

Baker’s close friend Charles Beal told the Huffington Post “He purposely never copyrighted the flag because he wanted it to be owned by everyone.” Yet its image, co-opted for marketing campaigns, feels a far cry from that desire. Some members of the LGBT+ community perceive it simply as an exercise in jumping on the bandwagon to exploit the pink pound.

The Transgender Flag: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

So before you change your creative to the Pride flag, ask yourself: Do we know its history? Do we fully understand its legacy and ongoing struggle it represents? The Huffington Post has provided an educational take on “The History And Meaning Of The Rainbow Pride Flag”. Do we have tangible plans to support the LGBT+ community?

Dr Elisha Foust, Women’s Equality Party LGBT Activist told me,

“I don’t mind [brands using the pride flag] as long as they are doing something more substantial than that. Donating to charities, promoting equality in their hiring and leadership pipeline. Etc. Problem is most of them don’t…Many folks don’t attend Pride in London because of the ties to commercial brands.”

So, what should (and shouldn’t) companies do?

Do you market your services or products to young adults? Do you employ young adults? Then you’ll be horrified to learn that according to American youth suicide prevention organisation, The Trevor Project — 39% of LGBT+ respondents between the ages of 13 and 24 “seriously considered suicide” within the past 12 months.

Take heed from the Suffragettes: it’s about “deeds not words”. The following statement has been circulating on social media in response to calls for a straight Pride: “Gay Pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution”.

Munroe Bergdorf stated at the recent Creative Equals Rise event: “Many marketers are guilty of creating merely the “illusion” of diversity and inclusivity.” But she urged people to examine how they can use their privilege to help others.

Let’s talk about two brands: NSPCC and Natwest.

Many LGBT+ individuals are still rightly angry that NSPCC continues to use the Pride flag, even following their dismissal of Bergdorf as their first LGBT+ Childline Ambassador, in response to a Times journalist incorrectly labelling her as a ‘porn model’. With minimal communication to her and deletion of her content from their site, these ‘deeds’ are in exact opposition to their ‘words’ that their recent campaign “aims to support children with LGBT+ concerns”.

Natwest kicked off Pride Month with a tweet declaring their support for the LGBT community.

Granted, a somewhat better effort than companies with no communications strategy — just a logo change. The need for ‘deeds not words’ was yet again highlighted by this response, by Twitter user: @artofstumbling “I see NatWest also has a nice rainbow despite their employee refusing to change my title and telling me I didn’t “look like a man” so it would appear fraudulent. Also getting misgendered every time I phone because you can’t include trans people in your basic call centre training”.

As marketers, we advocate audience first marketing. When I advise companies on Content Marketing, I often endorse research with employees, as representatives of the organisation or brand. Where possible also, with end customers.

Don’t just use the Pride Flag with a view to ‘cash in’. Conduct research to understand the challenges of your own employees and where possible, your customers who are LGBT+. How can you represent and serve them better? Analyse the results and create policies that address the research. Take a public stand on LGBT+ issues. The political is now personal which in turn, is now professional. If you’re creating and selling Pride Flag products for the month, give 100% of your profits to relevant charities. Otherwise, you’re still exploiting the community and its symbol. Analyse your unconscious biases. Equality doesn’t happen overnight, but work towards progress. Be bold and transparent with the challenges you face along the way.

Most importantly… and I can’t stress this enough: don’t limit these activities to Pride Month. Undertake this work throughout the year, alongside intersecting initiatives for BAME and female communities. Investigate Stonewall’s Creating Inclusive Workplaces, OUTstanding via INvolve: The Inclusion People and many other diversity led organisations.

Campaign Magazine recently wrote “… while inclusivity should be at the top of every brand’s agenda, every day of the year, Pride Month provides marketers with the opportunity to shout even louder about key issues impacting LGBT+ people and fly the rainbow flag.”

Finally and as a fitting conclusion, transfeminist social neuropsychologist Reubs J Walsh commented:

“I think there needs to be a formal process for identifying criteria (like with the fair trade logo for example) but if I was involved in that process it would be about ethical business practices, active intersectional diversity policies in terms of hiring and workplace culture for public facing companies, equivalent requirements in terms of the training and policies that relate to the treatment of lgbt clients, and then a minimum level of donation to lgbt causes. I would also rule out companies with racist, colonial, ableist etc track-records.”

With thanks to everyone who contributed to this piece. Feel free to get in touch and let me know your thoughts.


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