Matter of Pride
In normal times, June has been increasingly marked (and marketed) internationally, as Pride month – supporting, understanding, respecting and celebrating of LGBTQ+ lives, lifestyles and community.
For over fifty years, an external identity has served to link the original protesters cause; the colourful rainbow stripes of the Pride Rainbow flag. As a flag to symbolise peace, love and respect, it was originally used by the Peace Movement to address issues of conflict and war. LGBTQ+ people latterly adopted its use as an easy to recognise, inoffensive symbol that united LGBTQ+ people, their struggle and cause. Those ‘in the know’ would seek it out when travelling to find safe venues to gather, or wear its coloured emblem with pride.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of the rainbow in the UK has been ‘unofficially adopted’ by wider communities to show their appreciation and thanks to the nation’s key workers that have helped to keep us safe and healthy during lockdown. Colourful rainbow posters, drawn by children and families during lockdown, can be seen in windows in homes across the land. Across TV and in advertising too, the coloured rainbow flag proliferates.
To what extent does the broadening of this universally recognised and popular rainbow coloured flag to a new more ‘generalist’ community, risk diluting its original powerful meaning – and the sense of ‘ownership’ that the LGBTQ+ community feels toward it?
Have we passed peak pride?
As the number of brands, retailers and advertising that have eagerly jumped onto the pride bandwagon has continued to grow in recent years, questions have been asked about how many really do care about the social equality issues behind their colourful wares, versus a good opportunity to cash in on easy, lucrative summer marketing? As mass public gatherings, many Pride 2020 events have been cancelled. And with retailers big and small only just re-opening, many ‘well meaning’ brands and retailers are likely to be left with a glut of stock that simply does not sell. The devout will not mourn.
It begs the bigger question: To what extent will Pride themed t-shirts, handbags and other accessories, will still exert a powerful commercial pull in the future? But, even more importantly, has the powerful social and campaigning message that the design once offered been diminished by wider adoption of the rainbow stripe design: Have we passed peak pride?
Of course, colour and design has always been used to champion political, national and social causes – bringing people together under their own particular flag. For generations, this has been a way for groups and voices to gain visibility. And through greater visibility, make progress.
But the colours of this moment are not rainbow hued. Right now, we’re in the midst of a fierce monochrome debate as a result of recent tragic events in the USA and the associated Black Lives Matter movement. The ensuing mass action is still centred on struggle and inequality, but to the everyday plight of black people in the USA and the issue of racism. In its truest monochrome form, black and white is polarising. It’s an area of public debate where there can be no grey area.
Here too, many brands are taking a public, and commercial, stand. There have already been many examples of brands coming forward to make their position clear, standing alongside and supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign, even shrugging off instances of vandalism, looting and extreme public disorder which have affected their own property and retail stores. The sentiment being that goods and services can be replaced but human life can’t, with Designer Marc Jacobs posting to his Instagram account “A life cannot be replaced. Black Lives Matter.”
Following its previous high-profile campaign, featuring US pro-athlete and rights-campaigner Colin Kaepernick, Nike has been a strong brand voice in support of BLM across social media, reaching out to their audience in the US and globally. They are not the only big brand that has taken the decision to stand on the right side of the (whichever) line.
…as consumers, we will increasingly ‘buy what I believe in’.
Brands and Retailers have woken up (and in increasingly non ‘woke’ ways), that more honest and sincere dialogue is what’s needed to connect them better with consumers. They have to ‘walk the walk, not just to talk the talk’ in these areas. Beyond everything, shoppers want products to be sincere in their origin, composition, values, and marketing. Brands with a purpose, with the structures, ethics, values and production to match will increasingly win out. Recent research indicates that almost a third of consumers say they buy into brands with political and social values that align with their own, and about a quarter of consumers boycott brands that don’t.
Whether it’s in support of BLM or LGBTQ+ campaigning, it’s often easy to dismiss the slew of hastily made brand statements and messages as low-cost tokenism. Quick gesture politics and lip service in lieu of sincere or committed action. But the reality is that, as consumers, we will increasingly ‘buy what I believe in’. For retailers and brands, that means successful is no longer about what just looks good, but what is believed to actually do good, too.