Has Pride become a commercial cash cow?

By Richard Ware

7th July 2017

Cancel the whole campaign. Sack your agency. Bin the marketers.

Take back our Pride.

On Thursday last week, Pride in London 2017’s campaign #LoveHappensHere lit up Twitter for all the wrong reasons.

The campaign has been Pride in London’s biggest ever. It launched in June with a series of TV ads on Channel 4, guerrilla-style posters and digital ads on taxis to draw attention to the rising problem of LGBT+ hate crime—with each of the posters carrying messages of love that had been crowdsourced online.

Then, a few of the posters were roundly (and loudly) criticised for badly thought-out messaging and ill-conceived language, gaining some damning media attention just a week before the big event. It resulted in some pretty fast comms work from Pride in London to respond and retract the posters.

In the real-time age of Twitter outrage, a great campaign can receive praise one moment and rouse anger the next. It is a real shame that the controversy detracted from the brilliant work and personal effort put in by those at Pride in London and its media and creative partners.

But this backlash pointed to a deeper problem: has Pride moved too far away from its roots, to become more of a commercial entity in how it acts and who is involved? Is it a cash cow?

Pride of course has evolved beyond its protest roots. The inclusion of media and corporate heavyweights – through financial support and presence in the parade – has brought it further into the mainstream.

Pride is now both political and apolitical – it has to be, in its current form, an open platform for both teeth-bared activism and inclusive all-are-welcome celebration and sponsorship opportunities.

Not an easy line to walk in a climate of Brexit, a controversial Conservative-DUP deal, and in the wake of the Chechnya massacres and the attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

Throw into the mix the fact that the LGBT+ experience is complex. There is division and dissent within the community, as much as there is solidarity.

As much as it is a public expression, Pride is personal. People care about the cause and what it means for them.


Corporate takeover?

Over the last couple of years, brands have certainly been more visible in their support of Pride. You can see it on our streets and public transport, in the colour of our food, and on social media.

In the Observer, Rebecca Nicholson delivered a back-handed compliment to advertising, writing that “because it is sneaky and ever-present,” it has the potential “to reach people who may not be aware of queer rights in any other environment, or care about them in the slightest”.

But, for every pack of Skittles that goes white (because ‘this Pride, only one rainbow deserves to be the centre of attention’) there is the unerring question of what all this branding and #loveislove really achieves.

In a collection of interviews on The Debrief (which includes the tacky opening line ‘Pride isn’t just glitter, strawpedoed WKDs and toilet queues’), chef and activist-pundit Jack Monroe says of corporate sponsors ‘they’ve got to do more than stick a flag up in the window and say ‘hey, come and spend your money here’’.

But is corporate support really just about chasing the ‘pink pound’?

Recent research from Ogilvy in the US, featured on Fortune, showed that nearly half of Americans ‘are more likely to spend money with brands that are LGBT inclusive’, but just as many were predisposed to not chose LGBT-inclusive brands if they were not similarly minded. Also, 68 per cent believe that brands ‘need to deliver on plans and promises of support to the LGBT community’.

Iain Walters, deputy director of marketing at Pride in London has echoed this, saying that advertisers have a ‘long way to go’ on LGBT representation; more specifically to help in the context of rising hate crime. Aviva’s Jan Gooding agrees that advertisers are falling short but that ‘the fact we are having more conversations about this can only be good news’.

More talk, sure—but more action as well, please.


The value of inclusion

The Economist Intelligence Unit examined the perceived financial value of LGBT diversity among business leaders. It found that few executives believe that LGBT workplace inclusion can boost the bottom line. In fact, employee satisfaction, productivity and innovation were way ahead of financial performance.

Diversity and inclusion is a talent and culture opportunity; it’s about communicating the values of your company as an attractive employer. It isn’t about just shifting product. Polly Shute, responsible for strategic partnerships at Pride, made the point in an online debate that it is often the LGBT leads within companies that she deals with – not driven by the marketing department – and that it is part of ‘creating workplace cultures that are supportive and open’.

Fifty years ago, police were raiding gay bars as a matter of routine. Now, they stand with the LGBT+ community. Corporations that used to discriminate against them, now jostle to join in—and they help make the collective voice louder; and progress more secure. The police officer who proposed to his boyfriend at last year’s parade (just read that once more) has said himself that ‘the overt and continuous support from people outside our community is vital to protecting our rights’. To deny them a chance to be part of this movement is to turn the clock back; to undermine half a century’s worth of work.

Commercial partners play their part in this, and not just for the size of their wallets. On Saturday, LGBT+ networks from big corporates will march alongside public services, protest groups, trade unions and industry bodies. Rugby and rowing teams will walk the same streets as dance troupes and choirs—paths cross at Pride that would not otherwise have done so.

Tomorrow, people will come together to celebrate those who fought for LGBT+ rights, they will get angry at injustice and chant protests, and they will cheer each other on.

Commercialisation or comradery, it’s hard not to count that as a win.