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Keeping Pride in a Rainbow Closet

Originally published on June 20, 2019

Happy Pride Month! It’s that magical time of year where 20 per cent of the population (according to the United States National Bureau of Economic Research) celebrates being themselves, being welcome, being included, and sometimes just being alive.

I remember my very first Toronto Pride in 1995. There were no corporate floats, no media sponsors and very few allies. Mostly it was us Queers marching north on University Avenue towards Queen’s Park in protest. The following year the federal government passed Bill C-33 which added “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Pride’s roots are about defiance, activism and politics.

Today, Pride has evolved into a month-long celebration with glitter and rainbows. Many corporations view the month of June as an opportunity to showcase their diversity, inclusivity and acceptance. Just walk down the high street of any major city in North America and it is awash with rainbow décor and products. However, if you talk to many members of the LGBTQ+ communities, there is a strong contingent that is against this “rainbow washing.” In fact, it is so strong, in many cities across North America Alternative Pride Events are popping up, e.g. New York City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and now Toronto. These events refuse corporate or state dollars. Their goals are to maintain the grassroots activism that has historically been Pride’s raison d'être.

I have worked on countless campaigns where the typical approach has been to either make a corporate donation or have the usual partial proceeds donated to a charity that resonates with the target market. This used to work, but today’s consumers, especially LGBTQ+ consumers, are questioning these campaigns. They want to know why only partial proceeds. They are asking why brands are only marketing to me as an LGBTQ+ individual in June. Am I not relevant the other eleven months of the year? They want to know the brands they buy are living and sharing their same values. All. The. Time.

Are these campaigns working to promote diversity, inclusivity and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people? Or do they simply exist to sell to what a 2015 Nielsen report cited is a $3.8 billion market in the consumer packaged goods industry in Canada alone. Are they curbing homophobic attacks and the killing of LGBTQ+ people around the globe? In 2018, Statistics Canada reported a 25 per cent increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), there are still more than 70 countries around the world where LGBTQ+ people’s lives are at risk. Is this rainbow marketing actually addressing these very real and harmful issues facing the LGBTQ+ communities?

Which brings me to what we at Breakfast Culture call Woke Marketing. It is a relatively simple concept that aligns with individual authenticity. Is a brand being truly authentic to its core values? All. The. Time. Not just for one month of the year and not just in their marketing. They demonstrate it with their supply chain. They demonstrate it with their hiring practices. They demonstrate with their internal culture. They ALWAYS demonstrate it! This is what we call Woke Marketing. Let Breakfast Culture help your brand live its authentic self.

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