The Problem with Pride Marketing

A rainbow crosswalk

The problem with Pride marketing is some businesses are tying themselves to Pride in an obviously phony way. Some companies are clearly participating in slacktivism rather than drawing attention to an issue they care about. 

For that reason, anyone who does an LGBTQ+-focused campaign risks associating themselves with cynical self-promotion.

Rainbow-Washing?

“Pinkwashing” has come to describe companies that drench themselves in pink to “raise awareness” for Breast Cancer month but may or may not take meaningful action to eradicate the disease.

While some businesses use the month of June to highlight an LGBTQ+ cause that is meaningful to them, others are certainly “Rainbow-Washing.”  

Here are some egregious examples and a quick way to measure whether a campaign is appropriate or not.

Commemorate, or Celebrate?

There is a simple way to decide whether tying your campaign to a current event or holiday has the potential to backfire. Ask yourself if the event is meant to celebrate or commemorate. 

hooters waitresses dressed in camo for a memorial day ad.

For example, the May Long Weekend in Canada celebrates Victoria Day. Many companies also tie it to the unofficial start of summer. Because the reason for the holiday is celebrating, not commemorating, you’re probably not going to ruffle any feathers—ditto Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Earth Day, and so on.

The May holiday in the United States is Memorial Day, one of three US public holidays acknowledging the military. Americans also view the long weekend in May as their unofficial summer kickoff. The conflation of the two can result in branding anywhere from muddy to downright disrespectful because, as the name implies, Memorial Day is intended to commemorate, not celebrate. 

It reminds me of a news story I reported for CTV in November 2011. A liquor store sent out flyers covered in red flowers, telling shoppers to “remember” to stock up on liquor for the “long weekend,” meaning Remembrance Day. Canada has a slightly clearer demarcation between our “celebrate” holidays and our “commemorate” holidays, so the reaction was unsurprisingly hostile. 

an inappropriate ad
In 2012 I filed a report on a liquor store using Remembrance Day to sell booze.

The Problem with Pride Marketing

Some holidays, trends, and events aren’t clearly in one camp or the other. In these cases, be guided by what is authentic to your brand.

For example, I am not a big Christmas person, so I’m unlikely to ever run a Christmas campaign. That aligns with my values, and it also frees me from any Christmas promotion controversies.

Pride is in June (in most places) because the Stonewall riots took place in June 1969. So it is not commemorative in the sense that no one died in the riots, but it certainly draws attention to the LGBTQ+ people who have died and still die for loving who they love. There are 75 countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal and 11 where it is punishable by death. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A tasteless tie-in between gun violences and consulting services.

For holidays, events, and trends with a serious side, businesses need to examine their year-round behaviour to determine whether it’s appropriate to tie in a promotion.

If your Pride-themed promotion is the first time you have ever mentioned having a stance on LGBTQ+ issues, that’s a sign it’s not appropriate. Comedian Meg Stalter created a hilarious satirical video called “hi gay,” sending up companies who don’t see the distinction, to which I link below.

The worst example of this I’ve seen recently isn’t about Pride, it’s about gun violence. A consultant used the recent gun violence in the U.S. as a lead-in to talk about the educational services she provides. I don’t know what to say about this other than “ew.”

An ad from Adina's Jewels that show the problem with pride marketing
Adina8217s Jewels might be cute but her Pride campaign is tacky

Not as ugly, but still pretty bad is this email newsletter from the popular jewelry business Adina’s Jewels.  The company has never mentioned its perspective on gay pride in any other way. The jewelry it advertises is not a new Pride-themed line; it’s the rainbow jewelry they sell all the time. There is no mention of a donation or promotion of an LGBTQ+ charity. Just a faceless woman in a rainbow shirt, hawking merchandise.

Mastermind Toys is contributing to Pride, not co-opting it.

The Pride marketing email from Mastermind Toys strikes the right tone. They put their financial commitment right up front, and they focus on making valuable suggestions for parents who want to teach inclusivity to their kids. 

The bottom line is that just because an event is happening doesn’t mean you need to find a way to tie it to your brand. It’s better to sit out of an event entirely than cultivate an inauthentic connection that your audience rejects.

If that doesn’t convince you of the ways inauthentic promotion can go wrong, the hilarious Meg Stalter just might.

Meg Stalter’s satirical “hi gay” video