When It Comes to Pride Don’t Be a Bystander and Don’t Backtrack

By Chris Nurko, Group Executive, Brand Integrity & Ethics at Interbrand

Pride has always been both a celebration and a form of protest. Pride is a moment for the LGBTQI+ community to celebrate freedom of expression, self-identity and self-esteem by rejecting labels, stereotypes and judgement. But also, a moment of reflection for the community to remember the origins of Pride, tracking back to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, through to the challenges that the community still endure in the face of discrimination today – both in a political and societal sense.

As communities and new generations began to adopt more liberal mindsets, the celebratory side of Pride came to the fore. But tides can turn back and with many geographies seeing a rise of conservatism and an ‘anti-liberal’ agenda, the spirit of acceptance and inclusivity is under threat. Which means it has never been more important for businesses and brands to have a voice.

Many businesses today have recognised the importance of the LGBTQI+ community. Not only do they recognise that in many societies perspectives have changed, but they acknowledge the power of both the community and its allies and advocates in consumer spending and brand preference. For employees and a workforce, the legislative requirements for non-discrimination have now blended into a perception of equality and fair treatment that recognises the value and strength of diverse representation in a workforce

For businesses as both employers and as brand owners, the LGBTQI+ community and its allies are important demographics to consider and support through Pride, and Pride related marketing and promotions. And not only during the month of June. Visibility, awareness and support should extend deep into the heart of corporate organisations who seek to be ‘in step’ with society – meeting expectations as both a brand and employer. If this level of inclusivity and support isn’t woven throughout a business’ brand purpose, it risks falling victim to being perceived as inauthentic. Many of the recent business controversies involving the LGBTQI+ community have arisen from the degree that a brand authentically supports the community and Pride vs. inauthentically supporting the community for the sole purpose of making sales. This is where businesses risk falling into ‘rainbow washing’ territory – where the inconsistency of a business in overall support and policies for their workforce and external audiences become apparent, or for the lack of continuity in support beyond the highly visible Pride Month opportunity for PR.

Some businesses may hold back for fear of getting it wrong, but business and brand support matters – and so too does the symbolism of rainbows, unicorns and flags and the language of gender identity and correct terminology. How brands turn up reverberates across the LGBTQI+ community – and across all communities – as this awareness helps start conversations and build inclusion.

So, how can your brand show up, authentically?

Build advocacy and support for the LGBTQI community (and all communities for that matter) through your brand purpose. It has to come from within. Build a culture of inclusivity and integrity. Show up for all undeserved, under-represented and discriminated individuals. Not only in marketing, but behind the scenes within your business, non-profit organisations, support groups, and government leaders.

Stand by your employees and your brand message. Do not backtrack. If you commit, commit and follow through. If you are authentic, and have engaged with your audiences and community consistently, you should know where you stand and why. You (as a brand) can then defend your position. And you will then know that your audience will support and appreciate your position. If you don’t have that understanding, that buy in, or that support, it will be obvious and it will translate negatively in public perception.

Remember that the LGBTQI+ community values and celebrates creativity. And as a community, represent the most authentic role creativity plays in defining one’s identity – the freedom of expression. If brands and businesses put creativity and expression at the core of how they celebrate Pride, then they will find that connection with the community. That is the pathway for commercial success and differentiation.

Think about The North Face ‘Pattie Gonia’ ad and pride tour – arguably the best campaign in the US this year. Tongue in cheek and yet defiant in the face of conservative GOP politician critiques. It stands out as being one that connects to the LGBTQI+ community with relevance to the brand’s core purpose. Looking more generally, it’s encouraging to see the biggest brands such as Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola continue to show support through sponsorship of merchandise and products, events and inclusive employee engagement.

For me, Pride is taking pride in who I am as a person. Pride is recognising that I am not defined by a single attribute or label. Pride for brands and business is about helping people tell their authentic story, connect with others like me, and show love with compassion and empathy. Love and diversity make the world better.  Being authentic and doing the ‘right thing’ means NOT falling for the dogma and division of what politicians or ‘groups of hate’ elevate to a moral mission or political objective. Doing the right thing for Pride is not about making money but making the world better.

At Interbrand, that is why our ALL IN FOR ALL recognizes the benefits and joy in diversity, equality and inclusion. I couldn’t be prouder to work at a company that celebrates and supports this.