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Pride month marketing: 5 dos and don’ts of celebrating Pride as a brand

Pride month marketing: 5 dos and don’ts of celebrating Pride as a brand Blog Feature

Emily Mermell

Website Strategist, 9+ Years of Digital Marketing and Website Optimization Experience

June 23rd, 2021 min read

We were on our way to the grocery store and I said it.

“Mom, I’m gay.” 

I was 15 years old. She pulled the car over and we sat in silence. We didn’t talk again until she dropped me off at the office of a therapist claiming they could fix me.

It was 2007, and gay marriage wouldn’t be legalized for another eight years. Since then, the country and the world have changed for the better. And so has my relationship with my mom, in case you were wondering. 

In the United States, gay marriage has been legalized, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has been repealed, and the LGBTQ+ community has made many other great strides. The fallen heroes of the movement, such as Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson, would be in awe of how far we’ve come. But, like many marginalized groups, we are still fighting an uphill battle on many fronts, including media and marketing representation.

It’s this battle that makes the way a business approaches Pride Month in their marketing so important.

While some organizations use Pride Month as a chance to overuse rainbow colors, be “trendy,” or make a sale, the spotlight should really be focused on the issues and how that business is contributing to the cause. 

In this article, I’ll share five dos and don’ts to make sure your Pride Month marketing strikes the right chord.  

🔎 Related: Marketing with pride vs. "Rainbow Washing:" Marketing lessons from Pride Month

Performative allyship vs. authentic allyship

Eighty-three percent of Millennials say it’s important for the companies they buy from to align with their beliefs and values. According to a 2019 study, 64% of consumers, in general, said that they would buy from a brand or boycott it solely because of its position on a social or political issue. 

So the way you market your products and services matters, and consumers are paying attention more than ever.

June is Pride Month and, today, it’s celebrated with parades and events throughout the country, attracting every facet of the LGBTQ+ community, including allies. With sponsorship opportunities and marketing campaigns, Pride Month has turned into a celebration that has even taken corporate America by storm, which is good, if it’s done properly. 

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge rise in the use of buzzwords such as “rainbow capitalism” and “rainbow washing,” which refer to businesses profiting from symbolic support of the LGBTQ+ community without doing anything that actually benefits the movement. For example, slapping a rainbow overlay on your logo across your social media channels, but ignoring activities otherwise. 

This demonstrates what is referred to as performative allyship or performative activism. 

Performative allyship can be defined as allyship to gain social capital versus a true devotion to the cause. In comparison, authentic allyship is genuine, substantive support that stems from taking action. A women’s clothing brand rallying for equal pay or a diaper company working to end child labor are examples of authentic allyship. 

IKEA’s A World Where Everyone Feels At Home campaign is a picture-perfect demonstration of authentic allyship and well-done Pride Month marketing. 

This campaign revolves around proudly supporting the LGBTQ+ community both within IKEA’s organization and externally with product collections and donations. 

Their campaign landing page focuses on three things:

  • How to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity both in the workplace and in one’s personal life.
  • The progress they’ve made to promote inclusivity within their organization.
  • The Pride-themed products they have available and how much they donate to specific LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations.

They also use their platform to highlight the unique stories of LGBTQ+ members of their team. You can see through this campaign how they support their LGBTQ+ employees, and how they support the LGBTQ+ movement as a whole. This is authentic allyship at its best. 

How performative allyship can hurt your brand

Unfortunately, not everyone is as genuine. For example, there have been instances where organizations celebrate Pride Month and then do something later in the year that contradicts their campaign. 

Organizations that frame themselves as allies during Pride Month have found themselves in hot water when it has been pointed out that these same businesses have made large donations to anti-gay or anti-trans groups and supporters throughout the year.

Take MeUndies, for example. 

Every June, MeUndies celebrates Pride Month by creating a themed print and donating a percentage of the proceeds to an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization. However, in October 2020, MeUndies launched a series that caused an uproar

The series was based on Harry Potter, written by J.K. Rowling, who has been making headlines since 2019 with her offensive comments about the trans community.

After being repeatedly asked to take the collection down or donate a portion of the proceeds to a pro-trans organization, MeUndies responded by saying that though they do not agree with J.K. Rowling’s comments, they could not take it down because they would lose too much money, and they also declined to make any charitable contributions from the proceeds. 

Instead, they vowed to create a diversity and equity board that would vet future partners to ensure that something like this does not happen again. 

Their apology may have been sincere, but their actions following the launch showed they were putting profit over the social cause and this didn’t sit well with their audience.

Following the product line launch, MeUndies members took to social media to voice their disapproval of the campaign and demand action. 

One person tweeted, “As a long-time customer, I am disappointed you would create this line, despite JKRs very prominent spewing of bigotry and hate towards the trans community. I will immediately be canceling my subscription, and demand proceeds go to support a charity supporting trans rights.”

This demonstrates how a company may do all the right things during Pride Month, but one anti-LGBTQ+ action can turn their allyship from authentic to performative and lose buyers. Actions matter.

With all of this in mind, use these five dos and don’ts below to truly position your organization as an authentic ally. 

1. Don’t: Limit your Pride Month campaign to a rainbow logo

Gone are the days when solely plastering a rainbow logo across your organization’s social media profiles is deemed an acceptable celebration of Pride Month. 

Although changing your logo to rainbow colors can be a sign of support, to truly position your organization as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, coupling that with something actionable is a better presentation of authentic allyship.

Here’s how to go beyond the rainbow:

  • Write an article highlighting and uplifting notable LGBTQ+ individuals leading your industry.
  • Lend your social media platform to LGBTQ+ members of your community.
  • Make a donation to an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization.
  • Make a pledge to create LGBTQ+ specific company policies (and see it through).

Furthermore, although Pride Month is only celebrated one month out of the year, authentic allyship and LGBTQ+ inclusivity should be a year-round practice. Here are a few ways you can demonstrate authentic allyship throughout the year:

  • Include inclusive photography throughout your website and marketing campaigns.
  • Create internal policies that protect and support LGBTQ+ employees. 
  • Actively hire diverse candidates throughout your organization.
  • Donate to LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations throughout the year. 
  • Be mindful of how your year-round partnerships and campaigns align with your allyship.

🔎 Related: 5 quick changes to kickstart your inclusive marketing in 2021

2. Do: Share your inclusive company policies (if you’ve got them) 

Before launching a Pride campaign, take a look at your internal company policies. Do your policies include specific benefits or protections for LGBTQ+ employees? Does your organization provide training, education, or peer groups promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion? 

If your organization isn’t actively providing support for LGBTQ+ employees, you should start there before jumping into a marketing campaign. But if your organization does have policies like this in place, share them! 

We don’t suggest that you brag per se, but talking about your policies is a great way to not only encourage other companies to develop theirs but to attract new talent and buyers as well. 

An organization leading the way in LGBTQ+ inclusivity is Intuit, which actively champions its Intuit Pride Network, made up of over 300 employees around the world. And they don’t stop there. Intuit proudly offers LGBTQ+ inclusive benefits, training for leaders and employees, and volunteer and community engagement opportunities throughout the year. 

Wondering where to start?

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the largest LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, has created multiple online resources dedicated to creating better working conditions for the LGBTQ+ community, including publishing an annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI)

The Corporate Equality Index was created with the intention of being “the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices, and benefits pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees.” 

Use the criteria section of the CEI to calculate your organization’s score and use it as a starting point. This will give you a clear picture of what you’re doing well, and what you could be doing better. 

3. Do: Consider pairing your campaign with monetary donations

Your Pride Month campaign should revolve around your support of the LGBTQ+ community – that should be the primary goal, and any monetary gain should be secondary. 

If you’re going to create a Pride Month collection or campaign, couple it with a donation to an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization, take part in community volunteer opportunities, or both. 

Monetary donations to nonprofits can make a huge impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals. Donations provide the funds to fight legal battles, provide housing and food for homeless youth, and so much more. 

Harry’s, a popular shaving company, goes beyond Pride Month by donating a portion of their annual sales to LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations year-round. On top of their annual donation, they also sell a Pride Month set — designed by LGBTQ+ artists — and donate 100% of the proceeds to The Trevor Project

4. Don’t: Lean into stereotypes

The LGBTQ+ community is beautifully diverse, and that diversity should be reflected in your marketing language and imagery. Don’t rely on stereotypes to guide your campaign. Keep your finger on the pulse and promote active feedback from LGBTQ+ members of your team. 

In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to include diversity of all kinds (race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.) in your year-round marketing initiatives. Representation matters and should be integral when planning any campaign. 

In 2019, Nextflix used its platform to promote the stories of LGBQT+ actors and empower members of the community to have strength and confidence in who they are during Pride Month. 

This campaign featured a number of individuals from every facet of the LGBTQ+ community. This kind of diverse representation allows each individual to see themselves in your campaign. 

5. Do: Remember what Pride Month is all about — uplifting the community and making a difference 

Pride Month exists as a result of the strength and vulnerability of generations of activists and everyday people fighting for the right to simply exist. 

Although we have so much to celebrate, our fight isn’t over yet. With purpose-driven marketing, businesses are in a unique position to create waves of progress for the LGBTQ+ community by spreading awareness and showing support in the form of action. 

If your organization does not fully support the LGBTQ+ community, please don’t change your logo on social media, create a promotional product line, or even mention Pride Month in your marketing.

Capitalizing on a marginalized community is simply unacceptable, and will eventually backfire, reflecting badly on the brand and likely alienating a large part of your audience.

If your organization does support the LGBTQ+ community, steer clear of performative actions like rainbow washing, and use your platform for good. Lead your campaign intentionally and share what you’re doing to help move the needle. Ask the LGBTQ+ members of your team for input on your upcoming Pride Month campaign to further your message of support and get direct feedback from members of the community. 

During Pride Month, use your platform to uplift the community and make LGBTQ+ inclusion a priority both internally with company policies and externally in your marketing. And, most of all, make it a regular practice to demonstrate authentic allyship now and throughout the year.

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