'Tokenistic marketing will not be accepted' - which Pride Month campaigns sing this year?

June is fast becoming known across the world as Pride month.

Leon and Deliveroo are running a free books campaign for Pride Month
Leon and Deliveroo are running a free books campaign for Pride Month

Pride organisations, which exist to celebrate LGBTQ+ life and campaign for equality, deliver events and initiatives every June to shine a spotlight on LGBTQ+ people and the challenges they face.

In recent years there has been an increase in brands tapping into this movement to engage the LGBTQ+ consumer. Many critics accuse them of ‘pinkwashing’ - jumping on a bandwagon, slapping a rainbow on something and trying to capitalise on what began as a protest.

In light of recent events in America surrounding the tragic murder of George Floyd, we are reminded that the right to protest is a vital vehicle for marginalised communities to make themselves heard and shine a light on injustice. And it is from the protests of LGBTQ+ people of colour, such as the explosive Stonewall Uprising in New York in June 1969, and their fight for equal rights, that the Pride movement, was born.

For that reason, it becomes even more important that the corporate world approaches its stance on discrimination with credibility and true commitment. Tokenistic marketing will not be accepted and true diversity must become part of everyday campaigns rather than a day or a month each year.

This doesn’t mean that all Pride month campaigns are ‘bad’. There are some marvellous brands who have a genuine commitment to LGBTQ+ people and they are using their platforms to share stories and voices that the rest of the world needs to hear.

Leon has long been one of my favourite companies - making it possible to get the train from Manchester to London and back again and have food that isn’t terrible. I will be forever grateful. This June the fast food chain has teamed up with Deliveroo to gift a picture book by the LGBTQ+ author and illustrator Olly Pike with selected meals.

There are two books available ‘Prince Henry’, a gay fairytale romance, and ‘Kenny Lives with Erica and Martina’, a story about acceptance of diverse families.

This campaign gives a voice to a young talented writer on a national platform and will offer an introduction to LGBTQ+ relationships that many children won’t be getting elsewhere in their lives.

Last year good old M&S came under fire for its LGBT Pride sandwich. This year the retailer is instead using the rainbow to support the NHS through its Rainbow Sale.

No one would argue that the NHS is not a worthy beneficiary of this support now, or ever. Yet I can understand the claims that the ease in which the brand has swapped the usage of this iconic symbol of the LGBTQ+ community reflects a rebranding of Pride to capitalise on the pandemic.

The misrepresentation of the Gilbert Baker flag in support of the NHS is a huge debate that cannot be covered in a sentence in this column.

Whilst we’re on the rainbow - no one does it like Skittles. As other brands are pasting rainbows on t-shirts, sandwiches, coffee cups and slides, Skittles has gone the other way and once again removed the rainbow from its packaging.

The “Give the Rainbow” campaign, which began in the UK and is now running in Canada, Germany and the USA, promises that only one rainbow matters in June, the one that represents the diversity and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community.

The special edition rainbow-less Skittles packs feature colourless sweets inside. It forms part of a partnership to raise money for [campaign group] GLAAD, putting vital funds directly back into the community.

It is worth noting that by this time last year I would have had hundreds of campaigns to discuss in this column. 2020 is very different and so far it’s slim pickings. Big brands have had their marketing budgets slashed because of the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and this may mean Pride campaigns have fallen by the wayside.

These rainbow activations risk being judged as empty gestures by LGBTQ+ people as they fall away as a result of empty high streets.

However Virgin, which has a long established deep rooted commitment to equality and inclusion, has fallen quiet because of the financial crisis. But I believe that most people in the UK know the strength of its values established through many years of investment, campaigning and policy making both internally and externally.

What’s more in the midst of the Pride events across the world have been cancelled including the one I have worked on for five years: Manchester Pride. Brands should remember that these organisations are generally either charities or support charities and they have lost their major income stream for the year. They need support more than ever.

Real commitment to LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion isn’t just for June and it’s the people who need support that will lose out if brands drop their support of Pride events.

Daisy Whitehouse is MD of Down at the Social


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