Brands delay, rework Pride campaigns in light of George Floyd protests
For the duration of Pride Month, hard seltzer brand Truly had initially planned a digital “Truly Proud” campaign in partnership with LGBTQ+ nonprofit GLAAD that would share 16 stories of LGBTQ+ individuals talking about employment discrimination. Meanwhile, a digital billboard in Times Square would highlight people celebrating Pride safely at home. Now, the campaign has been paused and the billboard overhauled to read a simple, unbranded message: Black Lives Matter.
The horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers has thrown the world through another loop in an already traumatic year. U.S. citizens continue to rally in nationwide protests against the racial injustice of Floyd’s death and the wider systemic injustice in our society.
Brands, which often stay silent on social justice issues, are speaking out against racism, pledging money to groups that support the black community and promising change in representation at the corporate level. Brands like Lego have also hit pause on advertising, careful not to seem insensitive at this time.
Increasingly, brands reserve June (designated as Pride Month) for Pride campaigns. But right now is no time for celebration, and brands are either postponing efforts altogether or reworking content to better reflect the black LGBTQ+ community.
“We are fully committed to Pride and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community this year, but we know there are other voices that need to be heard right now,” says Lesya Lysyj, chief marketing officer at Truly’s parent company, The Boston Beer Company. Lysyj says the brand will resume its “Truly Proud” campaign when it “feels appropriate.”
Jack Daniel’s had planned to launch a video series for Pride Month on June 6 presented by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire and in partnership with GLAAD and 16 other LGBTQ+ nonprofits, but is postponing the series until June 20, due to its celebratory tone. The series features drag queens participating in the popular online food trend “mukbang,” or meokbang, where people talk about what they’re eating as they’re eating. The videos feature drag queen influencer Patrick Starrr who has 4.5 million YouTube subscribers, The Try Guys’ Eugene Lee Yang and “RuPaul Drag Race” alums.
L.A. Pride has changed its approach. When the pandemic hit, the organization canceled its annual in-person Pride parade. This week, it announced its intention to lead a peaceful protest in solidarity with the black community in its place.
Many brands have already had to adapt their Pride plans due to COVID-19. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, several brands that opted to continue their Pride campaigns, revamped them with online offerings as lockdowns continued to keep people indoors and Pride parades went virtual.
PepsiCo’s Bubly is postponing its purely virtual Pride campaign for later in the month. In past years, the brand has sponsored floats in Pride parades, but this campaign for the flavored seltzer asks people to post their Pride parade struts on TikTok or Instagram Stories, with the hashtag #UnstoppablePride, supporting GLAAD. The campaign was meant to launch on June 4, and Bubly was planning on editing all the videos together on a microsite to create “the longest virtual parade ever.”
“While we had planned to kick off the #UnstoppablePride Parade at the beginning of the month, we’ve hit pause because we feel strongly that the focus remains on the systemic racism, discrimination and tragic murders that have been unfolding in Black communities across America for far too long,” says Stacy Taffet, vice president of water portfolio for PepsiCo. “We are outraged by the death of George Floyd and stand in solidarity with the Black community.”
Brands are not only choosing to suspend their Pride campaigns but support black communities with donations to Black rights organizations. Earlier this week, Verizon announced it paused its Pride campaign and donated $10 million to social justice organizations; Truly has made a donation to the NAACP; and Pepsi previously announced a $5 million initiative to African American and Latino communities already suffering through COVID-19 and has spoken out about the death of George Floyd.
Brands’ decisions to postpone their Pride campaigns could likely be guided by GLAAD’s influence, which partners with a number of brands each June to garner support for LGBTQ+ causes. The organization has delayed the launch of its own Pride initiatives and brand partnerships until later in the month.
A GLAAD-owned Pride initiative planned with a number of brands—Ally, Audible, Bombas, Bubly, Buzzfeed, Entertainment Weekly, Freeform, Kiva Confections, MALIN+GOETZ, Pride Media, RXBAR, Sally Hansen, Scent Beauty, Skittles, Talkspace, Tinder and WWE—has been paused and will launch later in the month, according to a GLAAD spokesperson who could not share more details. A scheduled panel with fashion label Theory has also been postponed as well as a promotion with menswear designer Ami Paris, which has launched a rainbow capsule collection, still available for purchase.
GLAAD is recommending that any campaigns that do launch center on issues facing black LGBTQ+ people. The nonprofit itself is using the rest of Pride Month to center on elevating black LGBTQ+ voices. GLAAD released a statement on June 1 stating “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional.”
“Now, more than ever, we must remember the roots of Pride and the Stonewall riots, that were largely lead by LGBTQ people of color who spearheaded the change for acceptance and equality that we see today,” says the GLAAD spokesperson.
Pride and black rights
Pride is intrinsically tied to black rights. Not only do the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Foundation identify as queer activists, black rights were part of New York City’s Stonewall Inn protests of 1969, when police raided the gay bar and violence resulted. Many believe that the uprising was initiated when the police tried to shove black lesbian Stormé Delarverie into a police car.
The Inn has once again become a site of protests this week following the death of Tony Hale, a black trans male who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Florida on May 27; and Nina Pop, a black trans female who was stabbed to death in her apartment on May 3. Activists are calling for black transgender people to be honored as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Condé Nast's LGBTQ+ brand, Them, is still planning on moving ahead with its virtual Pride celebration Out Now Live planned for June 22, but is working to ensure that the event strikes the right tone in light of civil unrest. It’s of utmost importance to Whembley Sewell, executive editor of Them, who is a black woman and a rare female at the helm of a queer publication. The celebration has already been cast with queer celebrities, including black stars like Bob the Drag Queen and Raven Symoné.
"In the face of nationwide protests, the question should not be whether or not one should celebrate Pride, it should be how one does so in a way that best supports the current needs of the LGBTQ+ community,” says Whembley. “The legacy of Pride is rooted in protest and is inherently linked to the essential activism of the Civil Rights Movement. At Them, we are ensuring that this truth remains at the core of all of our coverage and virtual events, including our global Pride broadcast, Out Now Live.”
The brands that aren’t pausing their Pride efforts seem to be those that have a merchandise component already being sold online. Nike, which has committed $40 million to social justice and an ad telling Americans to not turn their backs to racism, also launched Pride collections for Nike and Converse at the end of May. A spokesperson for the brand says the brand plans on carrying through with the release. Harry’s also says it plans on continuing promoting its “Shave with Pride set,” and has announced a donation of $500,000 to organizations that combat racism and support mental health care access for black communities.
“In the wake of so much heartbreak, Pride is going to look different than it has in years past,” says Taffet. “However, it is important to remember that Pride itself began as a riot led by LGBTQ+ individuals, especially Trans and Lesbian women of color. Pride cannot be stopped.”