Every year, people around the globe celebrate LGBTQ+ pride throughout the month of June.
Some celebrate in the form of parades, protests and being open about their gender identity and sexuality, while others quietly think about it to themselves, in a place where their love for another person could put their whole life at stake.
As a business it’s very easy to put a pride rainbow on your logo and call it a day, but for many people around the world, they can barely think about said pride rainbow without incredible feelings of guilt or danger.
It’s these situations, and the oppression that the LGBTQ+ community face, that need to be at the forefront of your mind while planning a pride-focused marketing campaign for your business.
Even in countries where there aren’t laws governing the lives of LGBTQ+ folk, they are still subjected to the court of public opinion.
Content Warning: Transphobic comments on an transgender man’s Instagram posts
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In this article, we’re going to discuss why pride campaigns often fail, and the approach businesses should be taking when it comes to pride month.
It’s important to remember that the LGBTQ+ community still faces struggles throughout the year, so there is no right or wrong time to celebrate and uplift the community.
The focus of this article is pride month and the LGBTQ+ community, but many of the topics covered here can apply to other marginalised groups, and how aspects of their lives and identities are often used for profit.
What is pride month all about?
On June 28th, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village in NYC. Police roughly removed patrons and staff from the bar, leading to six days of riots – protests and violent encounters with law enforcement outside the Stonewall Inn.
These riots were what started the LGBTQ+ rights movement across the USA and the entire world, and are the reason that we celebrate pride month in June today.
America’s first pride parade was a protest that took place on the one year anniversary of the riots, where thousands of people marched from the Stonewall Inn, chanting, “Say it loud, gay is proud”.
These events may feel like they took place many years ago, and that things are completely different now, but it can sometimes be the opposite.
For perspective, it wasn’t until June 26th, 2015, that the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriages. This is why pride month is still celebrated every year and why there’s still a need for it – real changes, that protect LGBTQ+ folks, have only been put into place in the past few years. Not only that, there’s always a risk of these things being overturned.
With this in mind, really think about why you’re running a pride campaign. Is it to help support the LGBTQ+ movement, to raise awareness of history and current events, or is it to or is it purely to profit from increased exposure during Pride celebrations?
Why are you running a pride campaign?
First ask yourself, why are we doing this campaign?
If it’s because it’s pride month and you want to make a quick profit, that’s not a good reason.
If it’s because you’re doing a lot of work internally to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ rights, have openly LGBTQ+ staff who are supportive of you running a campaign, and you want to raise money for charity, then you have some awesome reasons to run a pride campaign.
Your pride campaign might be as small as changing your business’ profile image on social media to a pride flag to show that members of the LGBTQ+ community will always be welcomed by your business, or you may want to go as far as launching a product line based around pride month. The larger the campaign, the more research you will need to do to ensure your campaign is about more than just profit.
Once you’ve come up with some ideas for your campaign, it’s very important that you run this campaign and ideas past LGBTQ+ people who work in your business. The best way to do this is to send out an anonymous questionnaire for staff to fill in.
Not everyone who is LGBTQ+ in your business will have come out to you, so this gives them a chance to give their opinions without outing themselves. Not only that, but people will be more honest if they can give their feedback anonymously, which could stop you from putting out a campaign that misses the mark.
Another thing to think about is, are you celebrating pride all year round?
This doesn’t mean having a rainbow logo all year, far from it in fact.
- Taking steps to be inclusive in your organisation?
- Positioning yourselves to make a difference to the LGBTQ+ community in your industry?
- Taking action when members of marginalised groups are treated badly in your workplace?
- Educating people in your business and in your wider industry about LGBTQ+ issues?
- Offering support to LGBTQ+ individuals in your business (for situations in and outside of the workplace)
Now we’ve discussed why you might want to run a pride campaign, driven by wanting to create real change and meaningful action, here are some key points to keep in mind while coming up with ideas.
What can you do to make your pride campaign as authentic as possible?
If you profit from a community make sure you are giving back to that community. Especially in the months where they’re not at the forefront. That’s all.
— 𝐍𝐢𝐜𝐨𝐥𝐞 𝐑𝐚𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐥 𝐃𝐞𝐧𝐧𝐢𝐬 (@NicoleRaquel_D) June 5, 2021
Practice what you preach
First things first, you need to think about what you are doing internally to make a difference to the LGBTQ+ community. Truly ask yourself what is being done to promote acceptance of all sexualities and gender expressions in your organisation.
This needs to be your first step, or else your campaign is just going to be profiting off a human rights movement because it’s trendy. Sounds harsh, but it’s true.
Take inspiration from the community themselves
There are lots of fantastic content creators and activists who share their stories, and stories from other members of the LGBTQ+ community, on their social media pages.
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Take a look at the type of conversations they are having all year round. See if they have flagged any issues with brands engaging in rainbow-washing in the past.
Use their points and experience to guide your campaign, and if you quote them, make sure you credit them. This is extremely important, as they are the ones who have done the initial research and shared their lived experience online despite potential backlash.
Good morning! Happy June to all brands launching a Pride campaign!! A reminder: you are about to capitalize on our identities/marginalization for corporate gain !!! It is therefore worth giving a second thought to your limited edition rainbow product !! Here, let me help!!! 💕 pic.twitter.com/uNCuGamiBQ
— Fran Tirado (@fransquishco) June 1, 2019
If you have the budget, why not pay creators and educators for their time? There are many people who visit businesses and conferences to help educate businesses about diversity in the workplace and their industry. By paying these educators for their expertise, time, and guidance, you are giving back to the LGBTQ+ community and giving your campaign a great foundation to work from.
Take an educational approach
Education is a key part of the LGBTQ+ movement, and also a huge part of being a good ally.
Yes, LGBTQ+ folk can (and do) educate others, but it can make a huge impact when allies step in to lighten the load and lift up those educators.
Imagine having to explain the intricacies of your sexuality and gender expression on a sometimes daily basis, to people who are asking you rather than typing their question into Google, as it’s the easy option. It becomes tiring.
Creating a pride campaign that helps educate the masses will help you make an impact, rather than just making a profit.
Connect with the community and speak their language
…but not in a stereotypical way. By that we mean you should use correct terminology.
This ad from Bud Light misses the mark by replacing the letters in LGBTQ with a new meaning. This ad could come across as belittling to the LGBTQ+ community and feels more like it is co-opting the movement rather than raising awareness.
That said, Bud Light are generally good supporters of the LGBTQ+ community and have partnered with LGBTQ+ charity GLAAD for the past two decades, so this really was a marketing accident on their part.
Here’s another example from Every Man Jack. It’s great to see a men’s cosmetics brand supporting the LGBTQ+ movement. But, was “groom” the right word to use here? There is a common spike of moral panic that comes around on the regular, claiming that the LGBTQ+ community is dangerous.
When Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education bill”, also know as the “Don’t say Gay” bill was put forward by Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, his press secretary Christina Pushaw shared a tweet calling it the “Anti-Grooming Bill”
The bill that liberals inaccurately call “Don’t Say Gay” would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.
— Christina Pushaw 🐊 🇺🇸 (@ChristinaPushaw) March 4, 2022
This bill essentially stops teachers from discussing their home life if they are not in a heterosexual relationship. A female teacher may refer to her husband to her students, but not her wife. The way the bill phrases this is,
“classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
It’s clear Every Man Jack was going for a fun play on words, but when you look at the wider picture, it missed the mark significantly.
There are several ways you can avoid using this type of language in your own campaigns.
Ask LGBTQ+ people in your organisation how they feel about what you’ve written. Do they feel like stereotypes are being used, or have you phrased something slightly wrong.
It’s important to ask more than one person in your business too – everyone has their own lived experience and may pick up on something different.
If you don’t have anyone LGBTQ+ in your organisation, (which could actually be due to the work environment making LGBTQ+ folks feel unsafe to come out) then hold focus groups. If you intend to make money from your pride campaign, you should also be willing to spend money to make sure it’s right.
If you’re not willing to do that, then you shouldn’t be making a profit from a movement you do not wish to engage with.
Donations and organisations
If you’re still not sure how you can contribute to the conversation but want to run a campaign for pride month, then look to charities and organisations who are already doing great work.
You can promote them across your channels and highlight the good work they do, rather than trying to speak on a topic that you can’t relate to or aren’t confident speaking about.
It’s also important that if you are going down the route of launching a product for pride month that you donate a large amount of the profits from that product to organisations who actively help the marginalised group that you are profiting off.
Otherwise, the profit you make actually comes from years of oppression just because it’s pride month.
Examples of unsuccessful pride campaigns
This example shows how a company who regularly profits off of LGBTQ+ products failed to initially speak out, although has since worked to rectify their mistake.
In March 2022, Florida Governors passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary schools. Not only does this mean that children wouldn’t have the ability to learn about non-straight or cis-gender people, it would also mean that teachers could get in trouble for saying that they had a same-sex relationship. A teacher could refer to her husband, but could be at risk of losing her job if she said she had a wife.
What did they do?
Disneyland Florida is one of the biggest Disney parks worldwide, and many people associate Florida and Disney together because of this. The Disney company failed to speak out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill when it was proposed by Florida officials. Alongside this, according to LGBTQ Nation, the Disney company has also made donations to all the governors involved in this bill.
Why is there an issue?
The Disney company releases, and profits from, lots of pride merch every year, but despite this, didn’t stand up for the LGBTQ+ community when it mattered.
This also came at a time where Disney employees were speaking out about Disney cutting “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” from their movies.
Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, initially thought that getting involved would be too political for Disney, and that making a statement would do little to change people’s minds, which is surprising considering how massive the Disney company is.
Disney’s Florida park brings in around 58 million people per year to its flagship Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and also employs 77,000 people from the Florida area, so their statement could have had a huge impact.
How did they correct this?
It’s important to point out that Bob Chapek has since backtracked and reached out to Florida governors to discuss the bill. He also pledged a charity donation, but the charity turned down the donation to make a point that action should have been taken initially and they can’t backtrack and then apologise with money.
Disney is also donating all the profits from their pride collection to LGBTQ+ charities.
This campaign is a great example of how just using the rainbow flag with limited research can backfire.
Back in 2019, Listerine released a pride edition of their mouthwash, with the rainbow flag and added the different words that the colours on the flag represent.
Except, they got one of them wrong.
Listerine decided to go with “peace” over the original meaning of the light blue stripe, which stands for “art and magic”.
Whether this is because they guessed, or because they wanted the words to fit better on the bottle, we don’t know.
This might not feel like a big deal to some people, but it’s an example of how a company tailored a movement to fit their own brand, as well as releasing a lacklustre product that did nothing to really raise awareness about the LGBTQ+ community.
How did they correct this?
Today, the Care with Pride campaign run by the Johnson and Johnson company, which this Listerine bottle was a part of, does seem to support the goal of raising money for LGBTQ+ charities. According to their website they’ve raised more than $1 million for LGBTQ+ advocacy organisations.
Their current website (as of June 2022), does seem to be focused on the Care with Pride campaign rather than the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, and promotes the products far more that it explains the struggles LGBTQ+ people go through and why pride is important to them.
Not only that, according to ChooseBeCause, the Johnson and Johnson company has “donated more than $200k over the past 2 years to politicians who have opposed legislation promoting equality and inclusion on multiple occasions, or supported/sponsored laws restricting rights for LGBTQ+ individuals.”
$1 million over the past 11 years equates to around $90k a year towards the LGBTQ+ community. $200k over 2 years equates to $100k a year going towards anti LGBTQ+ politicians.
To put things in perspective, Johnson and Johnson’s recorded £98 billion in sales in 2021. £1 million of that makes up just 0.01% of that.
So realistically, they haven’t corrected this. It’s actually much worse than a rainbow Listerine bottle.
Examples of successful pride campaigns
What did they do?
Target releases a pride range most years, but this is in line with their outspoken support of the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2016, Target made a statement stating that:
“In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways.”
“Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
This may not seem like much, but to LGBTQ+ people across America, this was huge. Those whose gender identity does not match their assigned gender at birth who needed to use a bathroom knew that they would be safe in the bathrooms at any of the Target stores across the USA.
Why was it a success?
Because Target openly supports the LGBTQ+ community all year round, their pride campaigns usually go down well. Even though over a million people pledged to boycott Target over their pro-transgender bathroom statement, they still stuck with it and continued to support the LGBTQ+ community.
For their 2022 pride campaign they have collaborated with LBGTQ+ artists for their products, raising their voices and supporting their work.
Although Target’s history with LGBTQ+ support isn’t perfect, in recent years they’ve tried to make a real difference to the community with vocal support for LGBTQ+ rights, not just releasing rainbow products once a year.
What did they do?
Ikea created a video campaign where LGBTQ+ people could share their stories. The campaign does not focus on IKEA or their products, just the stories of the people they included in the video.
This video was featured on a landing page, which includes a lot of information about the LGBTQ+ community and how allies can work to make progress.
Further down the page they speak about the work IKEA is doing internally to make IKEA a comfortable and safe place to work for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Ikea also released a rainbow shopping bag, STORSTOMMA with 100% profits of sales of the bag going to pride organisations. This may seem a bit odd, but according to IKEA, their FRAKTA carrier bag, the big blue one, is their best-selling product ever.
The STORSTOMMA is a bit more expensive than the standard blue version, but it seems that the bags are of a higher quality and are intended for everyday use, rather than it just being the same as the FRAKTA but costing more and conveniently rainbow coloured to cash in on pride month.
Why was it a success?
What’s key here is the donation of 100% of the profits to LGBTQ+ organisations and charities – this shows that they are giving back to the community with a fun product that’s a nod to IKEA and their LGBTQ+ shoppers, not just putting a rainbow flag on a bag then marking the price up to make a profit.
IKEA also took the time to share resources and create a video campaign uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, rather than releasing a product and nothing else. They also included information about their own inclusivity initiatives inside the company itself.
How to run an authentic pride campaign
There’s a lot to digest here, and a lot to think about when planning a pride campaign.
If we had to summarise how pride campaigns should be run, we’d do it with one line:
People over profit.
If you want to run a pride campaign, and believe you will do the LGBTQ+ community justice, here are the key points to consider:
- Practice what you preach
- Take inspiration from the LGBTQ+ community themselves (and give them credit for their work)
- Take an educational approach
- Connect with the community and speak their language
- Donations and organisations
- Learn from the mistakes of others
- Take inspiration from successful campaigns
If you put all these in place, you’re sure to create a wonderful price campaign that celebrates and supports the LGBTQ+ community, and makes a long lasting impact for the greater good.
Resources and Further Reading
- Stonewall (International)
- OutRight International
- Human Rights Campaign (International)
- It Gets Better Project (International)