June — which is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Pride month — usually arrives with a wave of rainbow flags and a wave of corporations looking to trend and profit through rainbow related communications and marketing campaigns.
Most people associate Pride month with parades, parties, concerts, and events, overlooking the fact that it is intended to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that tipping point for the gay liberation movement.
With so many brands jumping on the bandwagon, consumers are left to decipher which efforts are actually intended to show support, and which are aimed purely at profit.
Also, some members of the LGBTQ community fear their month of celebration is being hollowed out by companies focusing on clout rather than compassion.
Has the rainbow symbol become so commercialized that it’s now seen as some kind of summer print, the same way floral images are associated with spring?
Starbucks is celebrating Pride with rainbow tumblers; the proceeds of which may or may not help pro-LGBTQ causes. "Starbucks continues to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community and strives to create a culture of belonging, inclusion, and diversity," the company said in a statement that made no mention if any LGBTQ causes would benefit directly from tumbler sales.
Even President Trump tried to sell merchandise targeted at the LGBTQ community with $24 T-shirts that read, "LGBTQ for Trump." For those who don’t know, the "T" in LGBTQ represents the transgender community, a group that feels it’s in grave danger from the administration’s attempts to change pro-transgender policies.
And gender and sexuality are not the only social issues that have been appropriated. Many businesses have been called out recently for contradictions between their branding and their corporate policies.
Nike was called out recently for an apparent disconnect between one of its messages and its values.
The athletic apparel behemoth’s "Dream Crazier" ad, narrated by Serena Williams, verbalized sexism bluntly: "If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, delusional."
Mere months later, a female athlete sponsored by Nike helped author a New York Times piece confronting Nike for hypocrisy.
"When Alysia Montaño ran in the 2014 United States Championships while eight months pregnant," the op-ed reads, "she was celebrated as 'the pregnant runner.’ Privately, she had to fight with her sponsor to keep her paycheck."
For many women in the U.S., where paid maternity leave isn’t mandatory, the op-ed was a reminder that Nike’s words about equal opportunity were in fact true. It is a dream, not a reality, even for the women working with a corporation so intent on branding itself alongside social change.
One brand where the PR and personal values do align is Patagonia. Many brands try to boost the appearance of corporate social responsibility by posting on social media for Earth Day. But Patagonia has stood out as an absolute Earth warrior for the causes it believes in.
Since 1985, the company has committed either 1% of sales or 10% of profits, whichever was greater, to conservation. Recently, Patagonia dedicated $10 million in tax cuts to environmental charities and supported two pro-conservation U.S. Senate candidates in protest of President Trump's tax bill.
Patagonia effortlessly integrates its environmental conservation and corporate responsibility into its marketing communications. This year, it decided to sell its Patagonia Nano Puff vest, typically adorned with the logos of financial and technology companies, only to companies that prioritize the planet.
Pride month was intended to honor the people who fought for queer rights. Before purchasing anything with a rainbow on it, consumers should consider if the profits will actually support marginalized members of the LGBTQ community.
And in fact, many businesses do match their actions to the values of their marketing and communications campaigns.
Half of the proceeds from the sale of J. Crew’s "Love first" T-shirts go to the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization. And J. Crew’s subsidiary, Madewell, is donating half of the purchase price of their "Love to All" T-shirts and tote bags towards the same cause.
All sales from the American Eagle Pride collection go toward the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit dedicated to LGBTQ youth. Harry’s is donating all profits from sales of this shaving set toward LGBTQ causes. Hollister, Express, Converse, H&M and Disney are a few of the other companies bringing purpose to their Pride profits.
The over-saturation of corporations showing "Pride" this June will force many companies to put their money where their mouths are. Brands must go beyond adding six colors to their merchandise and sending a tweet in support.
Businesses can stand out as an ally by dedicating themselves to supporting the community and to improve their own company cultures and policies.
Paris Kissel is an account executive with Levick.