Allyship. In the brand world, allyship is when a company chooses to align themselves with a common cause, with the intention of promoting the interests of a marginalized group.
Brands that venture on this path must tread carefully, as once a brand has chosen a cause, they’ll be put under a microscope, open to criticism and judgment from both their customers and the wider public. Any missteps can result in ‘cancellation’, which can have a serious impact on both commercials and customer loyalty.
With Pride Month just passed, we look back on the brands that chose to ally themselves to the cause.
Some supported Pride through thoughtful marketing efforts and generous donations, whereas others fell short, executing surface-level ventures, that brought their own authenticity into question.
Pride Month: common mistakes
It’s easy for brands to appear like allies, jumping on the bandwagon of the latest societal issue, but not actively contributing to the cause beyond the surface. Last month, we saw plenty of brands adding rainbows to their Communications but what have they done beyond this? What’s important is ‘walking the walk’. Brands have to go the extra mile. To be a true supporter, brands must contribute more to the cause than they gain in return. And for this to be done in a thoughtful and meaningful way, these companies need to focus on; diverse representation within their businesses, charitable donations, and on driving societal change on a larger scale.
But before any of this can be done, brands need to first think long and hard about whether their company is strategically aligned with Pride. You wouldn’t enter into a Partnership unless it was clear how the other business complemented your own. And you should pay the same amount of attention and care into the causes you choose to support.
Dig deep into your brand’s personality and proposition, understanding why your brand should be involved in this cause and if so, how you should demonstrate this support. This will inform future behavior, guiding your actions to ensure they are authentic and consistent with what customers have come to expect of your brand so far.
Pride Month and the 16 Drivers
For your brand to be a true ally, you need to ensure your behavior closely echoes your existing values. The 16 Driver framework will help you do this, as these 16 factors have been proven to determine whether a consumer feels they have a positive quid pro quo with a brand. They range from Consistency – if a customer feels a brand is acting reliably the same throughout all of their interactions - to Accessibility, how easy and intuitive they feel a brand’s product/service is to use. The sum of these Drivers makes up the strength of a brand’s relationship with its customers.
With Pride, Integrity and Connection need to be closely aligned. Integrity is all about doing the right thing and Connection is about the values a brand holds and how well people relate to them.
Cause-based marketing is all about relatability - striking a chord with your consumers and showing you’re in touch with their wants and needs – so, any brand wanting to execute effective Pride positioning should focus on these two Drivers, ensuring they are in sync at all times.
Successful examples of allyship
Disney has launched a ‘Rainbow Disney’ collection this Pride, including t-shirts, mugs, face masks and more. But in addition to this action, the company is also donating to LGBTQ+ organizations around the world, including GLSEN in the US, which supports the LGBTQ+ community in schools, creating safe, supportive spaces, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Dr. Martens is upgrading a pair of shoes with a rainbow flag and heel loop, as well as giving customers the option to add rainbow laces. The company has confirmed they will be donating to three charities in Europe, including akt, which supports young LGBTQ+ people who become homeless after coming out.
SodaStream has teamed up with social justice advocate and influencer, Laverne Cox, on a campaign to promote personal stories from queer communities. The company has put a positive spin, amplifying stories that revolve around triumph and happiness, whilst promoting its own product. Like Dr. Martens and Disney, they too are donating. This Partnership will help SodaStream to drive the message home, as Laverne Cox is an influential celebrity in her own right, well known for appearances in shows like, Orange is the New Black, but is also a huge advocate for transgender rights.
These examples show brands going above and beyond a simple logo or packaging change for Pride Month, with many putting their money where their mouth is, and backing the community through generous donations. This is sure to affect their Integrity, as customers can see brands are striving to do the right thing, going beyond their work and actively trying to implement change in these communities.
Yet, donations alone won’t give brands a free pass. These companies must make sure they are embodying the values of Pride, or they too may be accused of ‘rainbow washing’. Practicing what you preach is key here. It should be clear to all consumers that the brand believes in the cause, and this should be evident through supply chain, employee culture and other internal actions.
Actor Andrew Rannels says it best, “It’s not just about the partnership, or the promotion”, it’s about “the charity as well.” Having never done a Pride collaboration before, Rannels was persuaded by Ketel One Vodka, who approached him with a commitment to two specific charities that he really connected with on an emotional level. For Andrew it wasn’t about a big show of support, it was about getting out and connecting with real people and local businesses. This shows how important Connection is to a successful Pride campaign, as it adds a human layer to these marketing efforts.
Not so successful examples
Plenty of companies changed their logos this year for Pride. But it was noticeable that companies failed to update logos in the Middle East and Asian sectors, where the LGBTG+ community is still suffering from oppression. Some car manufacturers were guilty of this, including Mercedes and BMW. This shows brands are willing to take action when they can benefit financially from these activities, but when at risk of repercussion, they are more cautious to stand up for the cause. A clear example of a company implementing actions at surface level.
Additionally, we’re seeing companies with propositions that contradict Pride, standing up for the movement. AT&T are sponsoring charities in this space, whilst donating money to politicians that are against gay marriage. Similarly, Walmart is selling Pride merch but was sued not that long ago for anti-gay discrimination. This brings into question why brands are pursuing causes that are at odds with their own values. And also reinforces the importance of Connection, as if customers can’t relate to the way a company is behaving, the brand itself won’t be able to increase its Integrity status.
‘Rainbow capitalism’ has taken over this month, with companies vocalizing support for the cause, whilst profiting off these same ventures. It begs the question - is it possible for big brands to lend support? And will we be seeing a shift in the future, with more companies focused on aligning their Partnerships with their core value propositions?
If you'd like to learn more about our other 16 Drivers, take a peek.