Hi, Jenny and Jerry here! We’re two Queer individuals in the midst of celebrating Pride Month and simultaneously working for a Marketing Agency, where performative allyship lurks at every turn. If that already feels complex and exhausting? Trust us, we know.
Performative allyship is the act of engaging in tokenistic support for marginalized groups — without making any meaningful or sustained efforts toward systemic change. Cue an exorbitant number of companies rushing to change their social media backgrounds to rainbows before their competition beats them to it. The level of support we feel is clearly overwhelming. Ahem.
Okay, so it’s no surprise that people hold some mixed feelings about companies who get involved in Pride Month.
On the one hand, queer representation can encourage those who are in or support the community — help build a real sense of belonging. We also agree that representation of the queer community is still a big deal, although it’s only the first step in an ongoing debate over the rights of all individuals in that community. From that perspective, more businesses celebrating Pride is a no-brainer.
On the other hand, businesses shouldn’t use Pride to turn a profit. Period.
When it comes to what feels right, we fall somewhere in between. We straight up do not condone the exploitation of marginalized groups by companies who are only looking to make a profit for themselves. But we do support companies who, although they create Pride promotions or product lines, give back through donations and overall community involvement.
In other words, we appreciate companies that take a transformational approach to celebrating Pride, rather than a transactional one.
Let’s start with companies like Doc Martens and Converse, who are looking towards a brighter future while taking the right steps forward today. While both brands aim for inclusive ideas and creativity in their marketing campaigns, they also donate large amounts to non-profit organizations like The Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project.
Out of the loop? The Trevor Project is an NPO that uses real, relatable subject matter to raise awareness and inclusion between separated and disconnected communities under the rainbow umbrella. In particular, they offer resources and support to LGBTQIAS2+ youth in crisis. The It Gets Better Project focuses on helping queer youth build confidence through testimonials from older queer peers — along with offering further support through resources like legal assistance, social work, and more.
Helping groups like these goes a long way toward making a Pride campaign feel like actual, impactful allyship.
Of course, donations aren’t the only meaningful approach. Companies like Skagen (a watch company under the Fossil brand) and EyeBuyDirect (an affordable alternative for prescription glasses) introduced specific collections for Pride Month — but kept their prices low. That lets both businesses celebrate Pride without price gouging the community.
That kind of rainbow pricetag — where inclusive branding comes at an exclusive cost — can alienate and exploit the very people performative allies claim to support. By prioritizing their LGBTQIAS2+ customers over the opportunity for extra profit, Skagen and EyeBuyDirect have made their inclusive efforts feel more authentic.
What’s more, both companies are donating 100 percent of the proceeds from their Pride Collections (to InterPride and The Trevor Project, respectively) for the entirety of Pride Month. Not bad at all.
What about the businesses that aren’t doing so well? Over the last decade, more than a few companies have been accused of rainbow-washing their products to feel more inclusive to the queer community while serving themselves a tidy profit.
You can see why it would be tempting. Inclusive efforts have resulted in sky-high June sales for companies like Walmart, Target, and alcohol brands like Bud Light. However, while companies have been quick to jump on the multicolored bandwagon, some have been just as quick to reduce the visibility of their Pride promotions.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as watching a brand’s rainbow-covered social media strategy disappear as soon as the calendar rolls over to July 1st. This year, however, we’ve also seen businesses tread lightly with their Pride Marketing to maintain a level of safety for their workers.
Take Target, which has received backlash at multiple locations over an adult swimsuit designed to help transitioning members of the community enjoy the summer as their authentic selves. Great idea, right?
Unfortunately, they’ve seen enraged customers confront employees with their personal views both in-store and on social media. In some cases, these customers even reveal the personal information of (or “dox”) employees that worked on Pride Month marketing and branding deliverables. This combination of harassment has resulted in some locations moving their Pride products to the back of the store to avoid any further conflict.
If you take Target’s stated desire to protect their employees at face value, you can understand their reasoning. However, these actions can be seen as the opposite of being loud and proud, by decreasing visibility to queer communities during a particularly challenging time for LGBTQIAS2+ rights. Cutting off support to those who feel underrepresented when they most need to feel seen and accepted.
With more and more legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, queer communities need a voice that can make them feel safe. Brands that retreat now can feel like they’re dropping the ball in a big way.
With the increase of violence and aggression towards trans and transitioning individuals in particular, it is crucial to protect their rights — and for brands who claim to be allies to stand with them.
So, how does this help you? Well, marketing agencies have a voice and a large platform. At the very least, they help shape brands’ strategies, for better or for worse. Although you can’t speak or act for your clients, you have a responsibility to help point them in the right direction. You also have the autonomy to choose clients that align with your brand and goals.
When brands come to you asking how they can build a more inclusive strategy, lean into transformational vs transactional approaches. Is the company giving their social media a rainbow coat of paint for a month because they feel pressure from their competitors and societal norms? Or do they have a plan that continues throughout the year? Are they worried about community impact, or just internal KPIs? And come June, do they actually resonate with the values of Pride Month?
While some companies can naturally align their values with the queer community, other companies with a diverse and large consumer base may struggle to embed these values in a sincere way. We feel the need for companies to acknowledge Pride in a way that feels right to them — but not as a means to an end. If a branded campaign doesn’t feel right, maybe donations or elevating other voices is the way to go.
Remember, change can happen without posting about it.
However you slice it, there is a lot of work to be done.
Companies need to stop and think before engaging in Pride Month content and investigate the reasoning behind their approach. Whether that’s posting pictures or breaking from their brand’s guidelines, what are they hoping to accomplish?
Do they feel pressure to conform to specific norms in order to profit from Pride? Are they engaging in performative allyship without fully understanding the significance of their actions? Are they willing to make an effort to create sustained workplace change long after the last day of June?
As Jerry and I have said, we support companies who are allies and give back to the LGBTQIAS2+ community. We recognize the need for — and importance of — Pride Month, while also urging companies to understand that support for these communities carries through all 365 days in a calendar year.
Companies that support their LGBTQIAS2+ employees through policy or internal initiatives don’t need much support when it comes to producing content. They can already speak authentically about what they’re actually doing. And that will resonate with many more people than some flashy campaign ever could. Just saying.
So don’t wait until the next calendar year to improve your approach. You can start moving the dial with impactful change today.
What I have is a malevolent curiosity - I do tend to take a different perspective.
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