Pride-ready retail: Are brands showing their true colours?

Brighton & Hove Pride is taking place this weekend (2nd to 4th August) expected to attract over 450,000 revellers. As the UK’s biggest LGBTQ+ Pride festival, the event boosts the city’s economy by a cool £20.5 million it’s been estimated. Kylie’s Saturday night set in Preston Park will of course be the main event, but Pride visitors are also likely to hit the shops for weekend essentials too.

And judging by the rainbow-themed additions to many high street stores’ window displays and signage in the run-up, it’s clear that the vast majority of brands are ready to support and champion the LGBTQ+ community. In Brighton’s city centre retailers including H&M, Marks & Spencer, Oasis  and Home Sense are entering the spirit with colourful temporary re-brands and even special Pride product ranges and activities. Waterstone’s Brighton has been offering a T-Shirt design station in its teen section so customers can make a unique clothing item in preparation for the weekend festivities.

Home Sense Pride store BrightonRetailers signing up to stamp out prejudice

Pride parades around the world, and Pride month in May have become noted calendar dates for brands and retailers. For retailers selling fashion, footwear, health & beauty, homewares and even groceries, it’s seen as an opportunity to show solidarity and introduce some fun merchandising and marketing into the mix.

A number of these companies are already involved in charities promoting inclusion and equality, and work hard as inclusive employers, so it is a natural step to invest in marketing, store design and merchandise programmes around Pride. Importantly colourful Pride store make-overs show external customers, and employees that a business supports the LGBTQ+ cause.

H&M’s extensive Love for All range shows has fully engaged the fashion brand is with this movement. The H&M website states: “We’re celebrating love, equality, and togetherness in all its forms! For this year’s Pride, 10% of the global sales price from this collection will support the work of the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign.” (See video below)

Is Pride becoming too commercial?

The commercialisation of Pride events hasn’t gone unnoticed, with campaigners and commentators seeing both good and bad sides to this. Rob Mathie, founder of On the One, writes in The Drum: “While there are countless examples of brands co-opting queer culture as a perceived easy win in Pride season, there are also plenty that want to use their powers for good and deepen their relationship with the communities they seek to support.”  (See box on M&S below).

Industry watchers are right when they say: All the rainbow ranges and press in the world mean nothing if brands aren’t engaged with their LGBTQ+ staff and customers in a deeper sense. That means community involvement, charity donations and active, ongoing work with stakeholders to keep driving positive change.

Looking ahead, there are considerations for retail marketing departments. As Pride events grow and become more culturally influential, will we see pressure on all retailers to re-brand stores, or risk appearing  conservative and uncaring compared to competitors? It may be that not every retail brand wants to invest marketing budget in a particular minority group.

Beyond rainbow tokenism and ‘pinkwash’

For those that are flying rainbow flags for Pride, the message from brand marketing experts is: This can’t just be a quick tick-box exercise. Certainly there’s been a backlash for brands that have jumped on the Pride bandwagon – finding themselves loudly accused of indulging in ‘pinkwash’ rather than showing genuine positive support. As Rob Mathie comments: “At a time when even teaching basic LGBT+ rights is becoming problematic, and homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are on the rise, it’s more critical than ever that brands are invested in supporting the LGBT+ community beyond rainbow tokenism once a year.”

M&S Pride sandwich LGBTNot boxed in: M&S defends its LGBT sarnie

In June Marks & Spencer launched an ‘LGBT’ sandwich in the UK and Ireland to celebrate Pride month, It was filled with lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato – reflecting the acronym LGBT – and came in rainbow-coloured packaging.

However there were mixed reactions on social media with many cynics suggesting it was a gimmicky gesture that trivialised the issues facing the LGBT community.

In defence of its campaign, M&S pointed out that this was just part of its activities around Pride. The British brand donated money to two causes ahead of Pride, chosen by its LGBTQ+ employees: £10,000 to Albert Kennedy Trust, a LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity and €1000 to BeLongG, an Irish youth service.

Carrie Reiners, from the Albert Kennedy Trust, said: “We’re thrilled to see Marks & Spencer show visible support for the LGBTQ+ community this Pride, and are extremely grateful. The donation will enable us to continue providing safe homes and better futures for the young LGBTQ+ people we work with.”

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