Viewpoint: Marketers Are Turning Pride Month into Corporate Affair


Call me cynical, but it seems to me that companies are turning Pride month into a corporate affair first, and a social cause second — if at all.

In recent years, many social media users have accused brands of jumping on the Pride bandwagon almost entirely for the goodwill, and not because they truly want to support the cause — they just want to look like they do.

As David Paisley, the Senior Research Director at Community Marketing & Insights, an LGBTQ market research firm, was quoted in a 2017 article for ViceOpens a new window , “The big shift has happened in the last five years. It feels like every consumer product is outreaching.”

He’s right.

This year, multiple clothing and shoe companies have released Pride collections, including Nike, Reebok, Dr Martens, Calvin Klein, Gap and DKNY, to name a few. Cosmetics brands are offering pro-Pride products and I couldn’t help but notice that the Uber app has even been outlining routes with rainbow colors.

And don’t get me started on all the related commercials and social media campaigns.

Sure, on the surface it may seem that these businesses are staunch advocates of LGBTQ+ rights. From the pro-Pride marketing campaigns to the rainbow-themed merchandiseOpens a new window that many businesses put out during Pride month, their support is very vocal and very public.

But look a little deeper and it becomes clear that many of these brands are exploiting the event, superficially ‘joining the conversation’ as a means to boost brand value — and ultimately sell more.

I was in Times Square earlier this month and couldn’t miss the blatant featuring of rainbows on the majority of the billboards I saw.

June, which has long been associated with rainbow flags, Pride parades and, most importantly, LGBTQ+ rights, has now become a time for companies to release LGBTQ-related products and marketing campaigns.

Admittedly, there are plenty of consumers who would disagree with me, insisting that regardless of companies’ motivation for creating Pride-themed campaigns, all support of the LGBTQ+ community is to the good. The argument indeed could be reasonably made that the end product counts: Corporate support boosts public awareness for Pride and LGBTQ+ rights, and is a reflection of a cultural shift away from homophobia.

While that may be true, I would argue that the corporate motivation does matter.

And I bet it will start to matter more to consumers as they increasingly become wary of corporate “rainbow-washing” – i.e. the idea that any rainbow-colored product or marketing campaign represents awareness and support of Pride and LGBTQ+ rights, and that buying these rainbow commodities and engaging with these marketing campaigns on social media will trick people into feeling that they’re somehow doing the same and joining the cause.

To be clear: I have no problem with brands that specifically leverage the Pride theme. I also believe that many companies are “the real deal” and practice what they preach in this respect.

But it’s also little surprise that so many businesses try to take advantage of Pride-related sentiment purely for profit when, according to a 2018 study conducted by Hornet and KantarOpens a new window , the LGBTQ+ demographic is the fastest-growing in the US and has a total buying power of more than $1 trillion.

Then there’s the wider reach brands can get from producing LGBTQ-themed ads.

Bob Witeck, President of Witeck Communications, a LGBTQ-specialized market research company, explains: “LGBTQ audiences are central to the youthful audience. The younger person doesn’t want to work with a company that doesn’t get it. LGBT-themed ads remind people they’re not set in 1950s, 1960s, 1980s. When millennials see an LGBT-themed ad campaign, it can change their perception of that brand.”

It’s very much in line with the growing trend of socially responsible marketingOpens a new window , which is a new way of targeting younger consumers by showcasing brand purpose.

The thing about those younger generations, though, is that they really care about authenticityOpens a new window from the brands they buy from and interact with online. What that means, as Mike Prouix writes for, is that “they can easily sniff out those who are only in it to profit.”

So, as Prouix warns, “before your company gets caught up in the euphoria of Pride fever, make sure you’re not committing the cardinal (sin) of engaging with a marginalized community: showing up only during a celebration for such a community, in this case Pride Month, with a superficial show of support.”

Donating to LGBTQ+ charities is a start. True allies of LGBTQ+ rights — those who are more than simply another slacktivist brand — will also represent the community across various campaigns, not just during Pride month.

They will be vocal allies of related causes and discussions on social media, and not shy away from making those values public.

Marketers who ensure their brands are true supporters of Pride will undoubtedly reap the rewards as most consumers, not just the LGBTQ+ community, will celebrate them for it.