At Pride, brands must back up words with actions

It’s great that brands are stepping up to champion LGBTQ+ rights and support these communities with Pride-related activity, but creating a rainbow coloured product is simply not enough.

prideWe are coming up to Pride, one of my favourite times of year – at least it used to be until I noticed lots brands jumping on the bandwagon.

We have seen it happen with International Women’s Day, so I am not really that surprised that it is happening in the LGBTQ+ space. I am, however, disappointed. Disappointed that there are marketing professionals out there who think it will work, let alone think it is OK.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to see organisations stepping up to champion LGBTQ+ rights and support those communities. But I do object to companies who aren’t practising what they preach, who aren’t reflecting the genuine values of their business, who are just in it to get a bit of profile.

I can see why they are tempted because these kinds of tactics do get coverage. Costa drew loads of attention last year when it announced it was going to celebrate Pride with rainbow cups, as did Sainsbury’s when it said it was marking Pride this year by selling Pride greetings cards.

So? What is wrong with that, I hear you ask. Well for me, it is the limited scale of these potentially worthy initiatives. The Costa cups were available in selected stores in six cities for just a few short weeks. Sainsbury’s customers will only be able to purchase their cards in just over 200 of their 1,400 outlets.

Now, forgive me, but flogging a Pride greetings card or a rainbow latte in London or Brighton is hardly a tough sell. If you really want to demonstrate your commitment to equality and raise awareness and understanding, why not do something across the country – in Huddersfield and Halifax, Dundee and Dungeness?

I appreciate that sales of such products might not be high in those places (although we’ll never know if you don’t try it), and I am not insisting that they take up what I know is valuable shelf space for products that people aren’t going to buy. But if they were serious they could have done something meaningful with real visibility across the country.

I don’t think you can overestimate the impact that seeing brands go out of their way to engage people like you in your local high street can have on LGBTQ+ people living outside of big metropolitan areas. As initiatives go, I am sorry, but I think the two cited above are cheap stunts, which might get coverage but rarely drive trust.

If you really want to demonstrate your commitment to equality and raise awareness and understanding, why not do something across the country.

Even worse are the companies who have decided to do something ‘Pridey’ without checking their own houses are in order. Come on, people, it is the very first thing you should do. And you don’t have to have everything right, you just have to have made a good start is addressing LGBTQ+ issues in your business and acknowledge that you haven’t finished.

So before sponsoring a float at Brighton Pride last summer, British Airways should have addressed the concerns previously raised with the company about its role in migrant deportations, including those of LGBTQ+ people being sent back to countries which do not respect their human rights. It might have avoided the float getting booed and the airline being roundly criticised for hypocrisy.

There are those who get it right. M&S recently launched an ‘LGBT’ sandwich which was available nationwide and very prominently displayed on-shelf. M&S also put its money where its mouth is by donating money to LGBTQ+ charities to help bring about real change.

The response from the LGBTQ+ community, at least on Twitter, was positive (and indeed hilarious), with people recognising that the brand was treating the issue and them with respect.

It is simple: painting a rainbow on yourself is not enough. You need to do more to demonstrate that you really are an ally. If you are not prepared to commit to real change, to genuine equality, then step away from Pride. If you are, then please step up – ideally in gold sequined boots.