Pride in London warns silent brands: 'The LGBT+ community will remember'

Starbucks: ad followed the journey of a transgender man
Starbucks: ad followed the journey of a transgender man

Event has been postponed until 2021 due to Covid-19.

Despite the gradual relaxation of the UK's lockdown measures, Soho is uncharacteristically quiet this month, as Pride in London is one of the many events postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, the vast majority of Pride events across the globe have been forced to move into virtual spaces in an attempt to appeal to the housebound masses, with Gay Times lauching its Undistanced fesival and PinkNews repping the rainbow with a virtual Pride procession.

Across the pond, Procter & Gamble has teamed up with iHeart Radio for an hour-long event starring Katy Perry, taking place next Thursday (25 June), aptly titled Can’t Cancel Pride.

While this year’s Pride month has seen work from Nike, Puma, Levi’s and Diesel, some members of the LGBT+ community have observed a lack of support from brands ahead of this year’s virtual festivities.

According to Getty Images’ global customer search data, interest in some LGBT+ topics has grown on the site, with big increases in searches for terms including "transgender" (up 129%), "queer" (up 212%) and "same sex family" (up 222%).

However, a comparision between search data in April and the same month in 2019 found that while searches for "LGBT" have decreased by 43% and "trans" by 30%, "meditation at home" has experienced a 5,900% rise – suggesting that well-being amid Covid-19 is a bigger concern to brands this Pride season than LGBT+ causes.

Rebecca Swift, global head of creative insights at Getty Images, told Campaign: "How can you talk about Pride this year without mentioning the impact of Covid-19? There is no Pride this year, at least in the way that we know it.

"One of the things that's going to come out of the coronavirus is the restructuring of what it means to be a brand, and some of that responsibility of who you're talking to will come to the surface of that."

Since the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis at the end of May, the Black Lives Matter movement has dominated the news agenda and, with it, the social and political messaging of brands.

While Ben & Jerry’s received praise for its long-term commitment to Black Lives Matter, L'Oréal Paris promptly received backlash from trans model and former brand ambassador Munroe Bergdorf, whose association with the brand ended after speaking out about the racism surrounding Charlottesville’s 2017 Unite the Right rally.

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Christopher Kenna, chief executive and founder of Brand Advance, an ad network that specialises in reaching diversity at scale and has previously worked with  L'Oréal, believes that the LGBT+ community has been left by the wayside as brands focus their content on Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

"Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter have been the perfect storm for brands to pivot towards being more purpose-led," Kenna explains.

"This month would be a perfect time to start interacting with the LGBT+ demographic and I've got to say I've been really disappointed. Now is the time where we're all looking for brands to be useful and to be relevant."

In 2019, the UK pink pound – the spending power of the LGBT+ community – was valued at £6bn per year, with more than one million people identifying as having a minority sexual orientation.

In the past, brands have often incorporated the rainbow flag emblem of Pride into their activity as a way to both tap into that market and express solidarity with the community – with mixed results.

Tom Stevens, director of marketing for Pride in London, warns that utilising the rainbow flag may be considered inauthentic.

"It would be easy for brands to duck out, but I really hope that most of them won't," he says. "We always advise brands against slapping a rainbow on their logo and considering it job done, because that really doesn't cut it. 

"The LGBT+ community will remember next year, so they won't be let off the hook when they suddenly come back to the streets in London next year."

As an alternative to the rainbow flag, Stevens encourages brands to donate some of the budgets they might have spent on a Pride activation to LGBT+ charities, one of which is Pride in London’s newly established Unity Fund.

Created following the launch of Pride in London’s "You! Me! Us! We!" campaign, the Unity Fund calls for allyship between brands and organisations to raise money for grassroots LGBT+ groups.

Pride in London's gold sponsor, Facebook, will match all contributions to the value of £25,000 (even if that seems meagre compared with the $20m that the social platform has committed to fighting the pandemic).

That said, while the rainbow flag has become a byword for "pinkwashing" among some commentators, Swift signposts the flag as a key ingredient in LGBT+ representation.

"People roll their eyes at the rainbow flag, but it's just such a clear signpost towards thinking about Pride and the community," she says. 

"We have the same issue with sustainability and people working in climate-change policy. They're so over the polar bear on the ice cap – but it works." 

With a presence of 25,000 people last year, Edinburgh Pride has also been forced to move its festivities to virtual spaces.

Jamie Love, marketing director and executive producer at Pride Edinburgh (which is, interestingly, sponsored by Manchester Airport due to the prevalence of people from that city who attend the Edinburgh festival), claims that the event will be "stepping away from the brand side" this year in favour of supporting grassroots LGBT+ groups.

Explaining the decision, Love refers to a Forbes article last year that named and shamed organisations including Pfizer, Comcast and Home Depot (all of which changed their logo to feature a rainbow flag) for donating to anti-gay politicians in the US.

Stevens, on the other hand, points to the issue of LGBT+ representation closer to home, warning that "young queer people will not see themselves reflected in in advertising and in brand comms".

"Our message to both our partners and other brands is: don't withdraw that support just because there aren't physical parades happening this year," he says. "It's proof that their allyship is genuine, especially since people in the LGBT+ community need visibility more than ever."

Taking into account Getty Images’ spike and subsequent plateau in LGBT+ searches each year, Swift encourags brands to consider visibility throughout the year in order to normalise the use of queer couples in ads.

Brands that have taken steps to normalise LGBT+ representation in ads in the past year include Starbucks, whose campaign "What’s your name?" tells the story of a transgender person trialling their new name.

Renault, meanwhile, celebrated its 30th birthday with a romantic, decade-spanning relationship between two women, "The French exchange".

Hailing representation as a year-round endeavour, Swift explains: "The best thing that any corporation or a commercial organisation can do is continue the conversation and the joy and representation beyond Pride. 

"In the general year's data, we see 'Pride' spike and then disappear, and we've seen the same with Black Lives Matter. If any change is going to happen, it's representation – it’s the role of brands to keep that moving."

With this in mind, Kenna points to an investment in LGBT+ media as a great gesture for brands that may not have the money or support to create a campaign targeting the LGBT+ community.

"There is no brand on God's Earth that we do not use the same as our straight counterparts. There might be some ones that we use that they don't," Kenna says.

"There's still inequality to be fought, and while Pride is a march we will continue to take part, year in and year out."

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