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Be Proud, Not Performative

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Today is June 1st and you may start noticing rainbow flags flying throughout your city or town. This is to mark the start of Pride Month. In fact, you may see a variety of different flags during this time. (Refresh yourself on what each flag represents here.)

Supporting the LGBTQIA+ community is always the right thing to do, and during June, we celebrate their lives, their achievements, and their impact to society.

But how we celebrate as marketers hasn't always been an easy thing to figure out.

In 1994, the furniture company, IKEA, released a dining room TV ad. This ad featured a gay couple talking about purchasing a dining room table and chairs from IKEA. More importantly, this ad featured the first openly gay couple in a commercial. You can view this commercial here. The commercial sparked controversy as both detractors and supporters had strong reactions.

Companies that were being “progressive” in the 90s with their advertising, were often purposefully vague. For example, a 1997 Volkswagen ad featured two young men, but the relationship between them was up for interpretation. They weren’t explicitly boyfriends, but they also weren’t explicitly just friends. This created a cushion to protect Volkswagen from criticism.

Today, 27 years later, we are seeing more and more inclusive ads showcasing different types of relationships and homelife. Ads featuring couples that are not heterosexual are becoming more and more mainstream — and also less vague — so this is a promising development for the future.

But, we still need to tread carefully. Just for a different reason.

Some companies celebrating Pride Month are accused of being just “performative." In other words, jumping on the Pride bandwagon but not advancing the LGBTQIA+ community in a truly meaningful way. But, if your brand doesn’t participate, you may be perceived as an organization that's not supportive.

Companies should not be profiting off of the rainbow flag. If they really want to effect change, they should look inside first. They should take the time to build up their LGBTQIA+ staff members and advocate for them. A good place to start is by donating a percentage of profits to an LGBTQIA+ charity.

As a consumer, challenge yourself to not buy Pride merchandise from large companies. Instead, support small LBGTQIA+ creators and their personal brands. Buying from the source will ensure that your purchase is actually helping the LGBTQIA+ community — even if just on an individual level — rather than a large corporation’s bottom line.

And that's something we can ALL take pride in.

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