How to Celebrate Pride Activism and Avoid Slacktivism

This year's Pride month is special because it is also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

So, celebrations and support for the LGBTQ+ community are in full force–but so are brand activations.

It may be as innocuous as brands adding a rainbow filter to their social media profile pictures, perhaps via apps such as  Celebrate Pride: Rainbow Your Life, Twibbon and Make Me Pride (Flag).

Or, you may see special Pride merchandise in stores.  For many brands, this also comes with a donation of a portion of the proceeds to organizations or charities supporting the LGBTQ community.

Others, like Snapchat, may make special Pride filters.

Prideful or Shameful

But, not all brand activations get it right, causing their activism to be deemed ‘slacktivism.’

Victoria’s Secret already is in trouble for its LGBTQ donation pledge because it contradicts its executive’s anti-trans statement. And, as PRNEWS noted, Budweiser UK is in hot water over its rainbow-colored pint glasses after reinventing several pride colors and then telling people what they meant.

Political campaigns are also getting flack for Pride merch.

These errors are not new.  In years past, we saw Adidas promoting Pride Pack while also sponsoring the World Cup in Russia, a country with strict anti-LGBTQ laws. Or cities like New York and Los Angeles getting smacked for over-commercializing the occasion and selling too many tickets to Pride celebrations.

Promote Authentic Brand Beliefs

This issue comes up throughout the year–whether for Pride month, International Women’s Day, Breast Cancer Awareness month, or Black History month. Brands want to stay relevant and connected to audiences and their beliefs, which is becoming more important.

64 percent of consumers worldwide will buy or shun a brand because of its beliefs, which is up 13 percent globally, according to a recent study.  And, not only is this value-based buying behavior on the rise, consumers want more. The same study showed that 60 percent of consumers want brands to make it easier for them to see their values.

Pride is an opportune moment for brands to demonstrate their stance or social responsibility. But it must be more. Otherwise, brands risk a major backlash for pulling off something more gimmicky than worthy of the cause.

Two-thirds (66 percent) of U.S. internet users want brands to take a stand on social and political issues. They don’t, however, want brands to use those issues for self-promotion or pure profit.

Avoid PR Backlash

As with any cause marketing campaign, brands espousing Pride month should remember to:

1. Be Authentic

It's fine to show support outward for the LGBTQ community. Yet brands must also demonstrate support inward. Offering equal opportunity employment, and maintaining an open, diverse and inclusive culture is a must. If any cause contradicts the company’s actions–past or present–it’ll be more of an exercise in crisis comms than CSR.

2. Be Timeless

If June is the only time your brand thinks about supporting LGBTQ communities and causes, you may want to re-think things. Decide how you can make LGBTQ support a year-round effort.

3. Be Giving
As noted above, Pride is not purely an opportunity for making profits. Piggybacking on a cause to make a buck is a sure-fire way to damage your brand's reputation. Any form of commercialized brand activism needs to be coupled with a donation. If not, the brand risks being seen as too self-serving, or, worse, not making a difference for the cause. So, keep it real!

Meredith L. Eaton is director of North America, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry