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On Brand No. 9: What does it take to run a Pride campaign you can be proud of?

June 16, 2022 · 4 min read

This is an edited version of an email newsletter sent on June 16, 2022. We send out new issues every other Thursday, featuring deep-dive essays and interviews with industry leaders. Sign up below.

As of September 8, 2022, On Brand is on hiatus. We have closed new subscriptions for the time being. Read the backlog right here!

This week’s plot:

  • A tale of two pride campaigns

  • Enough with the rainbow Listerine bottles?

  • How to “do the work” beyond a rainbow logo

Two bold, original, and very 2022 Pride campaigns

Every June, tons of companies get creative (or as is sometimes the case, not very creative at all) with marketing campaigns celebrating Pride Month. Let’s take a quick look at two of this year’s examples.

First, a collaboration between cannabis community app Weedmaps and Cann, a queer-owned cannabis beverage company (and Air customer). It’s anchored around a star-studded music video that I personally have watched 3 times. It’s good!! At the time of writing, the YouTube video has 113k views. The campaign homepage includes editorial content about the intersection of LGBTQ history and cannabis, as well as a CTA to donate to The Equality Federation. The whole thing is fun, light-hearted, and original. No notes!

Watch the video here.

Says Cann Co-Founder Luke Anderson, in an AdWeek interview: “The point was to make this campaign authentically, intersectionally queer at a moment in our history where it’s especially unsafe for queer people to be who they are in America.”

Another one that’s caught some conversation online is from Postmates, the Uber-owned food delivery app. Some folks love it, others are joking about how cringe it is. There are unsurprisingly many hateful reaction tweets, and there are also folks offering very thoughtful critiques.

It’s a bold and original campaign riffing on a specific part of life for a specific subsection of the LGBTQ+ community — of course it’s going to spawn hot takes. Regardless what your own take is, it would’ve been unimaginable for a company to run a campaign like this 20 years ago, let alone 53 years ago.

According to The Takeout, “this was in fact the brainchild of a group of LGBTQ Postmates employees. That detail plus a hefty donation from Postmates to The Okra Project, a food collective focused on supporting Black trans communities, makes the whole thing a little less cringe.”

It’s worth noting that the Postmates video — on Twitter alone — has 1.4M views. Controversy sells; all press is good press, right?

View the live tweet here.

What’s the lesson here? The LGBTQ+ community — like any community — is not a monolith. A smart, empathetic brand campaign recognizes that.

What’s in a rainbow logo, anyways?

The above campaigns are both original and creative efforts — and they’re also light years ahead of where things stood 20, even 10, years ago. While it was once seen as bold for a brand to adopt a rainbow logo for a month, it’s now commonplace — and at worst, pandering and pink-washing. A recent HBR piece by DEI consultant Lily Zheng notes that the bar has risen. Adopting a rainbow logo is no longer enough:

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So, what should you do if you’re a well-meaning brand in 2021, hoping to market yourself to increasingly discerning customers? I’d urge you to strongly consider replacing your Pride-themed marketing efforts with initiatives that genuinely center the betterment of LGBTQ+ communities, first and foremost. Before you make more white Skittles or rainbow Listerine bottles or Pride puns on merchandise, consider what might genuinely make a long-term impact for our community.

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Ultimately, this much is true: it’s a wonderful thing if your company wants to support LGTBQ+ employees and customers. But those efforts shouldn’t begin and end in the month of June. Whether through non-traditional healthcare benefits (like parental leave for unmarried, same-sex couples), year-round fundraising initiatives, or a number of other efforts, do what your company can to walk the talk.

LGBTQ+ people are LGBTQ+ 365 days a year. Showing up in the month of June is the least allies can do. There are only two weeks left of Pride Month 2022, but the rest of the year, and the years beyond, sit before us. What will you do?

Key takeaways 🏳️‍🌈

  • There’s no one “right” way to campaign around Pride

  • This cannot be overstated:

    LGBTQ+ people are not a monolith.

    Each of those letters represents a different community, each of which is composed of individuals, each with their own views

  • Rainbow-themed Pride logos still signal allyship and acceptance, but don’t have the same impact or meaning for everybody in the broader LGBTQ+ community

  • Whenever possible, go deeper than a rainbow logo: bring material benefits to LGBTQ+ people through donations, fundraising, more nuanced employee benefits, hiring from the community to work on pride campaigns (and paying handsomely)…the list goes on

In the know

Must-reads, hot takes, and rising trends:


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