Coming out: How brands should adapt Pride strategies during the pandemic

Unilever Pride Group.
Unilever Pride Group.

There's real Pride beyond the rainbow.

The Pandemic has upended all aspects of marketing culture and for the LGBTQ+ community the triple hit of bigotry around the pandemic, cuts in frontline queer services and the cancellation of all physical Pride marches/fundraising has hit hard.

The pandemic is also making brands re-think their approach to Pride and how to support the community. Thinking past traditional marches, merchandise and rainbow platitudes.

Ally-ship is a 24/7 365 undertaking – its Pride all day every day

This year we are supporting Coach, Equinox and Dove to generate meaningful messaging and activity that adapts to the current landscape. Making sure that we carry the message with meaning and action. 

These are our recommendations for how to evolve past the rainbow and really make a change:

1. Remember pride is about human rights. With the way many brands "celebrate" Pride Month it can start to feel like another consumer holiday, but nothing could be further from the truth. Brands need to remember that pride is about a fight for human rights and equality – a fight with a long history that is still unfolding today.

Many times pride activations can feel like they’re created to appeal broadly, as opposed to appealing to queer audiences. When brands think about pride as a human rights issue, they’re less likely to use generic imagery and more likely to focus on messages and actions that resonate with the community. Forget rainbow toothpaste or limited edition rainbow t-shirts; focus on the lives shaped by this issue. Showcase real LGBTQ+ individuals in your marketing and highlight the real focuses of the movement.

2. Don’t get lazy and default to rainbow imagery. We’ve got to move past the ubiquitous rainbow marketing. Yes, the rainbow is the recognized symbol for the LGBTQ+ community, but it has become a crutch for brands that are too lazy or too afraid to develop more meaningful marketing. The rainbow, the way it is currently used, is devoid of intimacy and dehumanizes a diverse and vibrant community. Not only is the rainbow easy and unimaginative, but it’s becoming less and less relevant as many broad sections of the LGBTQ+ community adopt their own flags or variations.

3. Support purpose marketing with actionable outcomes combined with visibility. When you decide to move beyond the rainbow, redirect some of that energy into coming up with marketing initiatives that have actionable outcomes that benefit the LGBTQ+ community. 

I can’t tell you how many campaigns I’ve seen where a brand makes a pride-oriented donation, but spends 90 percent of its budget marketing that donation while only donating 10% of the proceeds on actions. Activists quite rightly are calling out brands that spend less than the noise they make or support politicians that create anti-queer policies.  Again, pride is a human rights issue and deserves to be treated seriously. Adopting this perspective will help brands view LGBTQ+ outreach as something that lasts 365 days a year. 

4. Stop focusing solely on ‘parades’. If you’re focused on actionable outcomes, you’ll quickly realize this doesn’t include parade floats. Sure, pride marches are a fantastic way to celebrate your staff and communities, but they mean very little in terms of what a brand is actually doing to support the LGBTQ+ community. 

5. Wide view your use of creatives and creative teams. It sounds obvious but work with queer companies and queer talent across the spectrum behind as well as in front of the camera, brands need to make sure their creative and their point of view reflects a heterogeneous LGBTQ+ community – a community far more diverse than the white cisgender male image often relied upon in marketing content. Its essential to make queer content for queer people this is our moment its not about a straight co-sign.

6. Cast and support a range of organizations. There are a wide range of causes within the larger pride movement, focusing on everything from immediate concerns, like food, poverty and shelter, to younger and older demographics. Brands can play a big role in empowering the LGBTQ+ community by working with a range of issues. This is true now more than ever with the effects of the Pandemic. There are real frontline emergency needs that are as important, if not more, than flashy commercials filled with platitudes.

If you don’t know where to get started, think local. Tune into the LGBTQ+ needs and organizations in your area and look for opportunities to be supportive. Remember, LGBTQ+ life is vibrant outside of the Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco hubs. Many local queer communities are at the front lines of hate and harm and struggle to get the vital funding they need.

7. Reassess your brand’s business practices. When it comes to pride marketing, it can be tempting to focus on the outward aspects, such as parades, advertisements, merchandising and social media. But oftentimes, the place where brands can have the biggest long-term impact is within the business itself. 

If you want to be a brand that connects with LGBTQ+ consumers, you’re going to have to create safe queer spaces and hire queer employees, providing them with supportive services backed by equitable internal policies.

The bottom line: As brands start to plan and re-work their Pride marketing, I challenge them to think beyond the month, the march and, more importantly, beyond the rainbow. Pride Month should act as a catalyst – a starting point – for brands to build relationships with the LGBTQ+ community, propelling them to create deep and meaningful marketing content throughout the entire year.

Rana Reeves is the founder of RanaVerse.

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