Pride, Brands and Prejudice

Do brands have a place at events such as Pride? What does the presence of corporate-sponsorship at such a celebration tell us about modern culture, and is such representation necessarily damaging to the integrity of important social movements? Lamberto from MindMover has been exploring these very questions:

 

 

Pride, Brands, and Prejudice

Every year, just as spring turns to full-on, hot summer, London and many other cities around the world explode into life,  decked out in rainbow colours and sporting reminders about the importance of equal rights, along with spectacular parades and parties. It is Pride, the celebration of strength and energy against the oppression towards differences in people’s sexuality, identities and life styles. 

Over a million of people attended London Pride this year in the name of personal values or curiosity and fun, and I was among them.

I was there to make a statement about  how I would like my world to be, so  I got caught by surprise when I started seeing many different logos and branded merchandising in the parade, from Levi’s to Sainsbury’s. Was it about equal rights or about marketing? Brands were supporting several foundations, but what right did they have to be there colouring a social movement with their logos and slogans? 

Some of the people around me started pointing out the same issue, and a few left the parade. I felt annoyed; I felt betrayed. 

However, during the parade, I slowly changed my mind.

I realised that almost two decades have passed since Naomi Klein wrote No Logo and created a manifesto against corporations, and that our society and culture, including brands, have changed.

Brands were not intruders at Pride. They had been widely invited for the same reasons which took me there: to make a change.

The sociologist Z. Bauman defined our post-modern society as “liquid”: unstable and in constant change. In this society, classic institutions such as State, Religion and Family have lost their power to reassure and guide us, leaving us in dismay. A gap has been created and needs to be filled. Brands, as clusters of meanings and icons of our social status and identities, are answering the call, invited and embraced by thousands of people.

Trust in brands has increased so much that eight out of ten people say it is the responsibility of businesses to address social problems and, across all of the sectors measured, business have seen the largest increase in trust in recent years (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2016). 

In this period of social and economic crisis, some brands are seen as more stable, powerful, rich and influential than governments and institutions. However, anti-brand movements from the ‘90s taught us to mistrust multinational’s shiny veneers and consumers now expect brands not only to reflect and communicate their ethics and values, but also to work actively to make it happen. If brands aren’t ready to pay their social tribute, they can lose their consumers and deeply damage their identity. 

People expect action and integrity – or at least a brand image without visible contradictions, and are ready to let their voices rise if they spot any discrepancies. Brands cannot speak about creativity and act as censors, promote sport without supporting it in schools, promote civil rights and underpay their employees.

Consumers want brands to work for a better world and for a higher purpose. It can be Starbucks’ left over donation program, Bacardi’s campaign against plastic waste, Shea Moisture’s commercial against racial stereotypes or PayPal’s protest against transgender law in North Carolina (USA). Dove’s campaign to change beauty standards is perhaps the most visible and best known example of brands’ changing social role.

Consumers want brands embracing and fighting alongside them for a better world and are ready to repay those who do so with their loyalty and shopping choices.

Looking back at my pictures from Pride of those Levi’s posters and slogans, I now see brands were in the right place, using their channels and communicative power to promote and express, alongside me and many others, our values for a more equal and free society.

To find out more about how MindMover’s findings from cultural analysis in the retail industries, contact lamberto.ferrara@mindmover.co.uk or call 44 (0) 203 176 0729