Pride out of London: brands should be popping the Gay Pride London bubble
A view from Tom Stevens

Pride out of London: brands should be popping the Gay Pride London bubble

Brands can help Pride reach the towns where homophobia is still a real problem.

For us in advertising, Pride has been everywhere this month. But if you had been a 15 year old living in a small town considering coming out, you may not have known that last weekend was Pride in London.

More importantly, if you were a homophobe living in that same town, it would likely have passed you by as well.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of criticism about brands’ involvement in Pride this year. True, not all brands will have had singularly progressive, altruistic intentions. But I believe that largely their intentions are good and true.

For those brands getting involved, their activation should not be reined in. It should go further.

That criticism would instead be much better directed at brands who do not get involved at all, do not operate a diverse and equal employment policy, or do not reflect diversity in their marketing and advertising.

For those brands getting involved, their activation should not be reined in. It should go further.

Pride has historically been about visibility. In 1965, the first event we would today call a Pride parade took place at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was the first of what were at the time called Annual Reminders, with the intention of informing and reminding Americans that LGBT people did not receive basic civil rights protections. Gay, bi, trans and queer people came onto the streets with straight allies to protest and be seen.

I’m not saying that parades through cities and towns across the UK aren’t helping visibility, but they can’t and don’t reach everyone, particularly the 15 year old or the homophobe, and this is where brands can really come into their own.

What individual Pride organisations across the UK cannot do is get the rainbow truly beyond the parade and the city. Soho and London’s West End were awash with rainbows this weekend, much of it from brands, but Soho is not where the problem is. Brands must help get Pride, its messages of equality and LGBT visibility outside of the London Bubble, beyond the Echo Chamber and into the parts of the UK where homophobic attitudes are still common.

Channel 4, as ever in matters of diversity, nailed it. Their 50 Shades of Gay season has included programming, idents and ads, which all promote Pride month to millions.

On the other hand, Topshop spilling a rainbow onto Oxford Street, Starbucks selling Fraps with rainbow heart sprinkles along the parade route, and Transport for London turning Tottenham Court Road into a rainbow is wonderful, but their potential influence is untapped.

A much more impactful message from TfL would have been to do the same in stations on the outskirts of London – or for Starbucks and Topshop to spread the rainbow love in stores in towns where homophobia is still a real problem.

If you’re coming on board the Pride float, get fully on, don’t hang off the side. In 2018, put the message on packaging, in-store, online and in-app.

And the same for those brands who march, but don’t take the message to their customers. Their presence is good for staff engagement and for those lining the Parade, but imagine if BP activated at their petrol stations, Disney in their Stores, and Deliveroo in their app.

I don’t wish to pick on specific brands here, especially not those who got involved. These mentioned are just a few examples of some great brands who have so much untapped potential that I hope will be unleashed in future years. If you’re coming on board the Pride float, get fully on, don’t hang off the side. In 2018, put the message on packaging, in-store, online and in-app.

If that 15 year old in that small town had walked past Barclays and seen those rainbows, bought a rainbow Frap, got onto a rainbow bus, ordered a rainbow takeaway or regularly seen gay people in ads, coming out and feeling accepted might have been just a little less daunting, and a lot less lonely.

The tagline for this year’s Pride was Love Happens Here. But love happens there too.

Tom Stevens is head of marketing at Radiocentre.

Topics