It’s all too easy to put a rainbow on a bag of chips and call it inclusivity, but consumers today are more savvy about the brands they engage with and the ways they engage with them. LGBTQ consumers recognize that Pride collections can be a way for companies to garner free press without actually doing any of the real work behind the scenes. Just because Urban Outfitters releases a shirt with the practically empty phrase “Love Is Love” doesn’t mean its CEO, Richard Hayne, isn’t the same guy who once gave thousands to elect Rick Santorum, who likened homosexuality to bestiality.
-“The Big Business of Pride Fashion,” GQ
While there will be virtual celebrations around the world throughout the summer, Pride Month has mostly wrapped up. Rainbow-striped-everything now relegated to the sale section. Profile pictures are back to their normal hue. And now is the best time to look at how brands tackled Pride in 2020. How can your organization do more in your efforts to support the LGBTQ community year-round? And how early should Pride 2021 planning start?
Performative Pride Allyship is Passé
Today organizational Pride activities are mainstream. We see rainbow labels and special discount codes celebrating Pride from major brands like Uber and Oreo. According to a 2019 survey of 4,000 Americans by YouGov, 24% of consumers are more likely to do business with an LGBTQIA+ friendly business. That number jumps when you focus on consumers from the community itself, those who identify as Liberal, or are between 18-35.
That means companies are seeing an increase in profits by aligning with Pride. Whether they actually support Pride communities is a non-point. With profits on the line, they’ll continue to use Pride to their advantage. We even know some organizations that donate to causes that harm the LGBTQIA+ community once Pride ends. Consumers are more critical than ever about these performative gestures—and rightfully so. They scoff at perceived hypocrisy (at best), and at worst, their negative reactions can cause a PR disaster: a huge time-and-resource sink and catastrophic to the bottom line.
At Paper Sword we wanted to support the LGBTQIA+ community in a truly genuine way without accidentally appearing opportunistic. So we took a look at ourselves, asked some folks we trusted, and examined what other brands were doing. We learned one fundamental piece of advice:
If you want to be an ally, you must focus on lifting up LGBTQIA+ communities all year round.
Why You Need to Examine Pride 2020 Right Now Before Planning Pride 2021
2020 wasn’t a normal year for Pride brand campaigns. Many companies made cuts to marketing and campaign programming to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. The typical budget spending simply didn’t exist. Yet necessity is the mother of invention. You can find ways to support LGBTQ+ on a shoe-string.
Pride 2021 is 12 months away, so now is the perfect time to start planning your strategy for next year. Don’t just throw ‘rainbow lanyards?’ on a whiteboard and forget about it. Make an actual plan that creates inclusive policies and activities all year long. Amplify queer voices and give back to the communities who continue to fight for equality and justice.
Through all of our searching, it seems like authenticity is the key to a great Pride campaign; it doesn’t have to be big or flashy. Authentic efforts can really have the most positive impact—not just for your organization, but for the community you’re supporting. In May, GLAAD and P&G released the findings of their first-ever study on LGBT+ media and advertising representation. It’s a great read and shows that normalizing representation, even by a brand, can help move wider societal acceptance forward.
Let’s look at the brands that did their Pride campaign right in 2020. See what you can learn from these successful (and not-so successful) Pride campaigns about becoming a better ally for Pride 2021.
The Most Notable Pride Campaigns of 2020
We’ve discovered you can really combat criticisms and opportunism the commercialism of activism in two ways:
First, put your money where your mouth is. Creating a rainbow striped product means nothing if all or most profits go right back to you rather than helping anyone.
Second, show support LGBTQIA+ year-round, and back it with policies and guiding principles that demand inclusivity. Take a look at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality Index for a place to start.
All net proceeds from the Converse Pride Collection (designed by the proudly pansexual Miley Cyrus) go to global LGBTQ youth community partners. The campaign’s webpage features eight global youth community members who speak about their experiences in educational video content. Converse also featured Amber Hike. She is the ACLU’s first Chief Equity and Inclusion Office and creator of the “More Color, More Pride” flag, which includes brown and black stripes to “encourage a conversation around the power of diversity and inclusion.”
Levis has been vocal in their support for LGBTQ+ for over 30 years. Levi Strauss & Co. has a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index as one of America’s best places to work for LGBTQ employees. 2020 marked their fifth Pride Collection, with 100% of proceeds benefitting the Harvey Milk Foundation and the Stonewall Community Foundation. Consistent support— no matter the profit margins are—is the best way to be a true ally.
Billboard’s ‘Can’t Cancel Pride’ was a great demonstration of how brands can get creative in their support. Their online Pride party included artist performances and TED-talk like presentations from members of the community. Not only did Billboard find a way to amplify queer voices, all website CTAs pushed for donations to the Trevor Project!
Brands Whose Pride Campaigns Didn’t Cut It
How does a Pride campaign go wrong? There is a myriad of reasons, but we’ll focus on two main culprits. It’s activities that don’t reflect the actual values of the corporation or campaigns that profit brands without contributing anything to the LGBTQIA+ community.
For the second time, Skittle stripped the iconic rainbow off its packaging in June, and donated $1 per package (up to $100,000) to GLAAD. As part of the “Give a Rainbow” campaign, the packaging is grey and states “Only one rainbow matters during Pride.”
Reception to this campaign is mixed. At its core, the messaging is a bit off: how are you ‘giving’ a rainbow if there is no longer a rainbow on the packaging? The ‘only rainbow’ line seems to be a clarification of this previously tactic, which emphasized the ‘all-white’ packaging and drew negative criticism. It’s confusing at best. Clarity is key for these campaigns. Skittles also limited donations to less than 0.03% of their monthly sales during Pride month when donating a portion of sales of a limited stock item.
Target’s Pride 2020 collection was nothing if not robust. However, while Target highlights the inclusivity of the products, their website doesn’t actually mention where proceeds from sales go. We were able to track down mention of $100,000 to GLSEN, an organization dedicated to creating safe schools for LGBTQ youth. Certainly it’s a worthy cause, yet the lack of transparency makes it seem as though Target isn’t really proud to be supporting Pride at all.
Listerine caught plenty of flak for their Pride 2019 campaign, so we decided to check in and see how they did this year. It appears Listerine was included in a parent-company initiative by Johnson & Johnson. The Care with Pride website wasn’t quite what we expected, though the initiative to match donations of a family photo with donations to the Trevor Project is cute. However, this donation scheme wasn’t shared on Listerine’s Instagram post for Pride. If you’re going to proudly state that your initiative has donated over $1 million to LGBTQIA+ non-profit groups, tell your customers how they can help support you by donating more.
There are two key takeaways for an organization looking to show their support to the LGBTQIA+ community for Pride 2021. First, be steadfast in your support—don’t trot it out once a year, or leverage it as a defence when you’re criticized. Second, make sure you prioritize the community you’re trying to support. Use your platform to amplify LGBTQ voices, or make sure proceeds go where they can best assist those in need. We wish you luck, and we’ll see you at Pride 2021!
Paper Sword B2B is donating $500 to the Rainbow Refugee Charity Organization as a gesture of our support of the LGBTQIA community.
Want to get involved? Join us in donating here.