Alright, ladies (and gentlemen), it’s time to get in formation. Time really flies. June has ended and with that, so has Pride Month and the slew of campaigns that came with it. On that note, something has been lingering on my mind for as long as I can remember: Do brands really care about the LGBTQ+ community or is Pride marketing just, well, marketing? Throughout June, I saw a plethora of brands from various industries with their Pride-centric ads, campaigns or products. From Nike to Listerine to Google to Smirnoff, rainbow-donned campaigns could be seen everywhere.
Even though some brands have been supporting the LGBTQ+ community for many years, it still begs the question: altruistic or opportunistic? It’s been 50 years since the riot at Stonewall Inn and I’m elated that there is a wider acceptance for a community that has undergone discrimination for so long. However, in my opinion, brands need to do more than just jump on the bandwagon.
Pride flag parade New York
Rainbow treatment is everywhere—but not in Malaysia, of course (take a look at Editor Rachel Au’s op-ed on LGBTQ+ rights in Malaysia here and you’ll know why). The advent of the Internet means that we are able to access information from all across the globe. Just go on Instagram and you’ll stumble upon rainbow campaign after rainbow campaign. It has certainly become mainstream. But is the fight for equality now commodified? I honestly think so. After all, the LGBTQ+ market is worth $70 billion (or more) in the United States alone. Yes, the marketing campaigns do bring heightened awareness to the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for basic rights, and that’s obviously amazing. The only problem is that brands come off too eager to appeal to the marginalised community. One clear example is Listerine. Capitalism has waved its magic wand again and the LGBTQ+ community are no longer criminals but consumers. A major market, in fact. With their latest “Care with Pride” range, society is rewarded with a pride-themed bottle of mouthwash. Nothing says Pride like a gargle of Listerine mouthwash, right? Credit should be given where it’s due and some proceeds do go to LGBTQ+ charities.
Taiwanese girl with Pride flag
One can only really take all this with a pinch of salt. Would speaking out on unaltruistic Pride marketing be considered an act of ungratefulness? Whether brands are supportive or opportunistic, I think it’d be wise to look at some notable brands that (might have) tried too hard the last Pride month.
Marks & Spencer
Pride month Marks & Spencer sandwih
During my time in the UK, Marks & Spencer was a staple; especially their sandwiches. The LGBT sandwich is a concoction that should not have existed. The pride-themed snack stood for lettuce, guacamole, bacon, and tomato. Would you consider that creative, lazy, or (maybe) smart? They could have added a ‘Q’ for queso, no? I’m pretty sure when Taylor Swift wrote You Need To Calm Down, the LGBT sandwich was not on her mind.
However, despite some negative opinions on the British grocery chain’s Pride-related move, it should be noted that Marks & Spencer did donate to a charity dedicated to helping homeless LGBTQ+ youth (the Albert Kennedy Trust)—a total of £20,000 to be exact. No, it’s not wrong to feel that Marks & Spencer was pandering towards the LGBTQ+ consumer market. It is their second attempt at a Pride sandwich (last year, they released a rainbow sandwich and was accused of exploiting the LGBTQ+ community) and while awareness was raised, the ultimate goal is as much publicity as it is profit.
Deep down, it’s definitely cynical to feel this way but this is something nice to be conflicted about. Just remember: Don’t take advantage of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s the tea. What do you think of the LGBT sandwich by Marks & Spencer?
Dr Martens Pride boots
It seems like donating to LGBTQ+ related charities is the norm these days and that’s brilliant. Society has come a relatively long way since the Stonewall Inn riots. Public acceptance has increased massively, with more countries either decriminalising homosexuality or legalising same sex marriage. Similar to Marks & Spencer, Dr. Martens is a brand that I can relate to very well with on a personal level.
Growing up in Malaysia, I would never have imagined how big the brand actually is in the UK. It is also precisely because of its popularity that their Pride Month campaign didn’t look right. Was the rainbow treatment really to express support for the LGBTQ+ community? In my opinion, slapping on the colours do not equate to altruism. In 2019’s offering, the footwear brand’s classic 1460 boot gets a rainbow treatment. Was this what RuPaul envisioned when he launched Drag Race? Probably not.
Dr. Martens said that their goal with the Pride products is to celebrate individuality and diversity in all their forms. Like Marks & Spencer, a portion from the sale of each pair of Pride boots go to charity. In this case, it’s the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth.
Pride Month rainbow Listerine
You see rainbow on everything, from T-shirts to shampoo bottles. This year, Listerine added mouthwash to that growing list. What was the company implying? One thing’s for certain—this is an overt attempt at queer pandering by the brand. Simply placing rainbow colours on a product does not mean anything, especially to a society’s that well aware of corporations or brands that aren’t genuine in their actions. Was Listerine appropriating social and political movements for commercial gain? Maybe. Like the previous two examples, Listerine also donates to LGBTQ-related groups. Even when social media criticisms fill up the Internet, chances are slim that organisations will stop jumping on the LGBTQ+ bandwagon. As long as it’s profitable, brands such as Listerine will go on.
New York Pride rainbow stairs
I know, I know. Capitalising on wokeness to sell products is an actual thing. It is the reality! Yes, it’s cynical but this really is something nice to be conflicted about. The Pride flag might lose its true meaning one day if it continues being involved in this ubiquitous journey. According to Fran Tirado, an editor at Out Magazine, the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in advertisements is now standard and no longer the exception. The phrase there are always two sides to coin rings true here (or maybe more sides). Whether opportunistic or genuinely supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, the rainbow does help—with raising awareness and raising funds (which seems to be the pattern these days).
In conclusion, I doubt that these brands and many others are completely altruistic, but at the same time, I’m happy that something is being done, at least. What’s Pride anyway? It’s all about celebrating the stories of the LGBTQ+ community, a tight-knit, powerful and strong force. Why not be an advocate 24/7 and not only around the month of June? Pride Month might have ended for 2019 but Pride is evergreen. What are your thoughts on this? Let me know.
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