As Pride Month kicks off every June, brands change their logos to rainbow-drenched icons on social media and company websites.
The LGBTQ+ community takes center stage at corporations for 30 days, but the momentum quickly appears to go dark on July 1 at many companies. As more consumers call out companies for rainbow-washing for profitability, Pride campaigns can feel inauthentic — and overshadow some of the important work agencies are putting in behind-the-scenes.
H&M’s campaign, “Beyond the Rainbow,” created by B-Reel, aims to combat rainbow-washing through storytelling. The clothing brand’s “rainbow scanner,” located at beyondtherainbow.hm.com, recognizes a Pride rainbow on any ad, sticker, product or clothing ranging from shampoo to a pair of shoes.
The scanner unlocks personal, long-form stories told by LGBTQ+ individuals from around the world, including actress Mj Rodriguez and YouTuber and activist Chella Man. People can also unlock special Instagram filters to add their own stories to the conversation.
H&M also made a $100,000 donation to the United Nations Free & Equal Campaign, which champions equal rights for the global LGBTQ+ community.
“We had to look at the type of stories we were telling and the type of people that we wanted to elevate and work with,” Zack McDonald, executive creative director of B-Reel, told Campaign US. “We looked at every single aspect of the campaign because the world is changing so much, people are focused on so many things. So much knowledge comes to the surface and changes the way that we think.”
Other brands are treating Pride as a year-long commitment to raise education and awareness. LA Pride, which advocates for the LGBTQ+ community year-round, celebrated Pride month with “Thrive with Pride”, a campaign created by 22Squared.
The campaign sets itself apart from the sea of rainbows with an animated graphic featuring black and brown colors to represent communities of color, and the colors of the transgender flag.
The graphic is a nod to the diversity within the LGBTQ+ community, including Sharon-Franklin Brown, the first Black transgender woman to be named president of the board for Christopher Street West, the event producer for LA Pride.
“LA Pride wanted to reconnect, engage and celebrate the resilience and strength of the community,” said Eduarda Castro, senior art director at 22Squared. “It was from those goals, especially after the year that we've had, that we [focused on the message that] we're not just surviving, we're actually thriving as a community and as individuals. It's such a beautiful message.”
The campaign held a special meaning for Castro, who identifies as queer.
“I was extremely closeted for a really long time,” she said. “The fear of coming out and people knowing who I really am was super paralyzing. No one talks about LGBTQ+ history. It wasn't seen in movies the way that it is today. So in a way, I had no reference as to how great and beautiful my life could be.”
“Thrive with Pride” was a chance for Castro to “give back the love that I felt like I couldn't give for a really long time.”
To make meaningful action, brands should include Pride in the “fabric of the company’s culture,” according to Omar Hakim, associate campaign director at Purpose, a social impact agency. He added that it’s important for brands to donate the proceeds from their products and pride campaigns to LGBTQ+ organizations, especially ones doing work on the ground.
“I don't think there's any excuse anymore for people not knowing who to donate to or knowing how to connect those proceeds,” Hakim said. “Google is out there.”
For consumers, genuine allyship means showing support all year long. But, authenticity is still key for brands looking to connect with LGBTQ+ consumers.
“If that's the community that's important to them and the support of that community plays a role in building their businesses, as well as playing an important community-based role, they should be there [year-round],” said Greg James, global chief strategy officer at Havas Media Group.
“But thinking about how difficult it is for any of us to get a message out in the world, Pride is a good reason for brands to show up at a particular time and have extra support around marketing at that time,” he added. “But, it’s a 365-day job.”