Pride for sale!

In this age of social media influencers and the subtlety of stealth marketing, it can become difficult to check the legitimacy of a company signaling its support towards any movement. Who knows whether they are really embracing the campaign or just trying to keep a tight stranglehold on their market-leading position?

Consumers in the 21st century look for organizations that increasingly address society’s big problems such as climate change, mental health, etc and studies show that people tend to buy products from brands that actively participate and take part in such social issues. But this is the age of woke washing where brands have turned their purpose-driven campaigns to profit-making and there is no shortage of examples where companies have deployed good campaigns for advertising purposes. One amongst them is in the Mental Awareness Month when Burger King launched its #FeelYourWay by coming up with “Real Meals” like “Blue Meal” and “Pissed Meal” partly trolling its chief competitor, McDonald’s Happy Meals. 

While many of you will argue that this helps in bringing the issue to the public’s attention or helps show mainstream support for the marginalized, how about we look into the organization and see how much they practice what they preach? Food giants like Burger King were called out for their implausible approach as their employees themselves have faced issues with their health care plans. This example helps us in establishing a correlation between their care for the health and financial insecurity. 

Similarly, a lot of organizations come forward during Pride Month to show support to the LGBTQ+ community though many of them get caught up in the euphoria of Pride fever to show superficial support to the LGBTQ+ community for one long month and sheer ignorance later. With consumers today being increasingly cynical about social purpose-driven marketing, there is certainly a doubt whether those extra rainbows that you see in your social media handles are a signal of support to the LGBTQ+ community or just an aim to increase the sales and brand awareness by using the Pride Month as a mere fashion.

Pride Month celebrates more than just identities; it offers an opportunity to love, protest, and reflect on who we are. In June, every person irrespective of being a part of the community comes and joins their hands to celebrate the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month (LGBTQ Pride Month) annually in honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots and promote justice and equal opportunities for LGBTQ. 

While it is customary for Pride-themed merchandise to spike during June, it is equally important for the consumers to decide which brands are worth backing. Several brands dedicate huge resources and give back to the community and there are a few who use such purpose-driven campaigns to their benefit. Such companies practice pinkwashing, a term coined for promotion of the gay-friendliness of a corporate or political entity in an attempt to downplay or soften aspects of it considered negative. Pinkwashing is often criticized and also called rainbow capitalism because companies avail themselves of this opportunity to help increase their brand visibility. 

Brands like Absolut®, a brand of vodka, are honoring the past 50 years of Pride by paying homage to the people, protests, and protagonists who have taken a stand alongside the LGBTQ community fighting for visibility and acceptance. They devised the conviction of Pride being synonymous with vodka in the spirits world and hence emerged their Absolut® Rainbow, a year-round Pride bottle featuring the rainbow design and created in collaboration with the flag’s original creator, Gilbert Baker. Absolut® Vodka has spent decades sending a message of solidarity working in perfect harmony. Meanwhile, Skittles, a brand that sold candy known for its iconic rainbow ditched its colorful symbol for Pride Month to celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community. Their packaging went colorless giving a very strong message saying, “During Pride only #OneRainbow matters. So we’ve given up ours to show support.” Similarly, GAP, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, NYX and Olay, and a few other brands did not approach Pride Month as a marketing moment to sell products and profit from LGBTQ people, but as a time to loudly use their reach and influence to affirm our community and support advocacy organizations in an authentic and impactful way by giving a few percent of their sale proceeds to organizations that work for LGBTQ. 

Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s are vocally supporting LGBTQ people this Pride Month, and ironically, the same three companies collectively donated $1 million-plus to lawmakers who voted against the Equality Act whereas AT&T, Comcast, and FedEx donated money in huge numbers to anti-gay politicians which indicates their superficial support towards the community.

On that account, when it comes to deciding which initiatives are worth backing, it’s important for everyone to do their due diligence and invest time and money in brands that go beyond rainbow-emblazoned products and catchy phrases. Thankfully, it takes more than flying rainbow flags, turning logos rainbow-colored, or posting an Instagram picture to show support now because let’s be honest: most major brands haven’t maintained a consistent relationship with LGBTQ+ communities to survive Pride Month without some level of scrutiny. The act of deploying Pride-themed versions of their products and marketing without substantially engaging queer communities tends to be the minimal-effort route that many brands take, and the majority of consumers recognize these attempts as inauthentic almost immediately. Therefore, for the brands who have failed to show charitable support to the queer community, on a positive note, it’s never too late to begin. It takes courage to stand up and be who you really are. 🙂

Happy Pride Month to all. ❤

Akriti Karnany

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