The business of Pride: Are firms truly flying the flag?

A Pride flag flying on top of John Lewis in Norwich. Picture: Danielle Booden

A Pride flag flying in Norwich. - Credit: Archant 2021

With June comes pride month - the high street awash with rainbows from flags to tote bags. 

But actions speak louder than social media posts, say social activists, and their message is at risk of becoming a marketing ploy. 

Robert George is the head of fundraising for Norwich Pride, and said: "The LGBQT+ community often talks about 'pinkwashing' which is this issue where businesses just fly a flag for a day without really addressing inclusivity and equality for their customers and staff. 

Robert George of Norwich Pride

Robert George of Norwich Pride - Credit: Robert George

"There is a portion of people who wear a pin or businesses which pay for adverts without thinking about what it really means.

"But at Norwich Pride we work with businesses to sign our Pride Pledge - particularly those which want to support our yearly Pride Guide - and I don't believe any of those businesses just take out an advert to bring in a new roster of customers for a month or so."

Professor Robert Jones, a branding expert at the University of East Anglia, said: “I think a lot of the time attaching yourself to Pride Month is an example of cause related marketing, it's essentially a marketing activity.

“I believe that companies are citizens, and they have duties and one of them is a duty to treat everyone as much as you can with the quality."

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“And I do worry sometimes when I see posters in supermarkets just for a month. You know, why has this popped up now? Are they not interested in this the rest of the year? It feels like virtue signalling. And that’s unfortunate because I think a lot of organisations are actually very serious about it.”

Professor Jones, who is a member of the LGBQT+-community, said that these short-lived messages could sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.

He said: “I think a lot of consumers and probably some employees as well will treat it with some scepticism, if not cynicism.”

And at worst, he said, they could feel insulting.

In 2019 Marks & Spencer’s rebranded its BLT sandwich as an 'LGBT' sandwich — after including guacamole.

“I thought that was just kind of insulting, really,” he said. “As LGBQT+ myself that silly messing around with language made me feel like a joke was almost being played on me rather I was being included in their worldview.”

  • To support Norwich Pride this month visit norwichpride.co.uk/getinvolved.

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