Beyond the rainbow: Why brands need to step up their Pride support

At a time of high global awareness and engagement, particularly among the LGBTQ+ community, it’s unsettling when brands’ Pride marketing campaigns are confined to cultures that broadly accept LGBTQ+ - and are confined to ‘uncontroversial’ messages within those cultures. We dig deeper into how brands can - and should - avoid 'rainbow capitalism'...

Pride is global

If brands are to support Pride in countries where it’s widely accepted, they also need to support Pride globally.

Pride signifies a lot of different things to different people, but one important element is the promotion of LGBTQ+ safety.

In many parts of the world, homophobia is not just allowed and encouraged, but is actually written into legislation. As of December 2020, 69UN member States still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults, while only 81 have laws protecting from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and a paltry four UN member States have nationwide bans against “conversion therapies”.*

Brands who display their support for Pride in the UK, and yet operate in countries where homophobia is sponsored by the State ( gives two examples of brands that do exactly this), need to examine whether they are truly supporting a global culture where everyone across the LGBTQ+ spectrum is physically and emotionally safe to be who they are.

Pride at home

And LGBTQ+ safety is a local issue, too. Sure, the UK has marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws - and we may soon (fingers-crossed) move to ban conversion therapy altogether - and yet the Government's support for LGBTQ+ is far from unambiguous. Last year, the Government dropped plans that would have allowed people to legally 'self-identify' as their chosen gender through a statutory declaration without the need for a medical diagnosis.

Outside of Westminster, research from Stonewall reveals that in Britain, 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ people have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months, while 3 in every 5 gay men say they don’t feel comfortable walking down the street while holding their partner's hand. Market research by Kantar shows that 4 out of 10 UK parents say that it's inappropriate for a school teacher to teach a six-year-old child that being gay is acceptable.

So even if we confine our perspective to the UK, it's easy to see that brands need to think beyond the rainbow - that is, beyond superficial displays of Pride party spirit. Brand actions that tackle problems, that pay and partner with LGBTQ+ talent, are a more worthwhile use of our collective energy and attention – as agencies, as allies and as audiences.

Beyond the rainbow

We don't claim to be the experts on 'doing Pride right', but we've certainly learned a few things about what works (and what doesn't) over our 20+ years in business. Here's 3 key elements that your Pride campaign really can't do without:

1. Integrity: A Pride campaign needs to be a true representation of your brand's attitudes and actions towards the LGBTQ+ community, or it risks doing more harm than good. Every year, audiences become more sceptical of Pride marketing, and are quick to point out inconsistencies or brand hypocrisy.

Bad example: In 2019, YouTube was called out for hosting homophobic videos on its platform, while at the same time reskinning its logo with a rainbow during Pride month.**

2. Action: It's not just about donations and awareness-raising (although that's a good start). Brands need to take a more holistic look at their year-round interactions with the LGBTQ+ community, both locally and globally. If the only time 'Pride' and LGBTQ+ issues are on the agenda is in June, that's not going to cut it.

Great example: Mastercard's True Name initiative, which empowers transgender and non-binary cardholders to use their preferred name on their card.^

3. Representation: Brands must involve members of the LGBTQ+ community at all stages of their Pride initiatives - from planning to execution to impact.

Great example: Squarespace's 'Stand Proud' was a microsite that amplified the voices of five LGBTQIA+ community members who happened to be Squarespace customers, building something 'by and for' the community.^


* The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, ‘State-Sponsored Homophobia report - Global Legislation Overview’, December 2020

** Creative Pool, 'The worst LGBTQ+ campaigns, ads and initiatives', 18 February 2021

^, 'Doing Pride Right', 3 July 2019

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

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