Last week we were lucky enough to welcome Lucien Spee, Managing Director of Pride Amsterdam, as our latest At the Bar guest speaker. He came to talk to us about the purpose of Pride, what role brands can play, and specifically, concerns that the event has become too commercialised in recent years.
More and more with the annual arrival of Pride season, products and brands are increasingly adorned in rainbow flags. Whilst it’s great to see involvement and positivity, if not done correctly it can feel somewhat more like an exploitative marketing stunt, rather than a genuine pledge to guard and respect the rights of both LGBT+ employees and customers. The goal for brands, if they want to participate, is to engage in a tangible way.
Lucien was honest about the challenges faced when organising an event that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Amsterdam. There’s a need for corporate sponsorship to fund things. It was reassuring to learn that every participant in the Pride Amsterdam canal parade is required to put their money where their mouth is, and demonstrate that they are actively involved in the emancipation of LGBT+ people prior to joining the celebration.
By closely aligning themselves with the Pride cause, brands can help encourage LGBT+ visibility and support. They can remain long-established, consistent beacons in an uncertain world. Large multi-nationals, especially as they reflect ever more our lifestyles and values, can have real reach and influence. A limited edition pack of McDonalds fries can quite literally carry the inclusive image of the rainbow flag to right-wing American backwaters. Sports companies can shift the perception of LGBT+ athletes (and champion them) in an environment traditionally perceived as hostile.
Brands have the power to deliver a message of acceptance and inclusivity to corners of the world where tolerance remains low or non-existent, and indeed where LGBT+ people still live in fear for their lives. We saw a great example from Bart Cloosen, whose brilliant thinking led to Vodafone participating in Pride Amsterdam. Just a few years later, the company’s branches around the world pledged their solidarity with their LGBT+ staff and consumers. This included offices in countries such as Egypt and Turkey – both with poor records on the treatment of their LGBT+ citizens.
However, even in more liberal countries, the prevalence of the rainbow flag can lead some to think that the battle for LGBT+ rights is won, and that we no longer need Pride. Unfortunately, as we saw from Lucien’s presentation, there is still plenty of work to be done. This year alone has already seen a spate of attacks in cities including London and Amsterdam. It remains as important as ever that brands use their unique positions of influence to stand shoulder to shoulder with us. We cannot rely on the assumption that hard-fought victories for LGBT+ rights will be safeguarded forever.
An example. Our work for Smirnoff, in collaboration with illustrator Rob Bailey, helped the vodka makers celebrate their ‘Choose Love’ message during Pride season in the UK in 2017.
But beyond the bright and beautiful bottle labels, this was a vehicle for Smirnoff to show that they genuinely champion the cause. As part of their #chooselove campaign, examples of online homophobic trolling and abuse were called out and responded to with art and messages of positivity. Smirnoff took an extra step. As a brand, Smirnoff aligned itself alongside progressive audiences, continuing the campaign with a visible presence at music festivals and in bars.
With his energy and optimism, and commitment to the amazing celebration that is Pride Amsterdam, Lucien is a hero of the LGBT+ community. Fitting, then, that this year’s event will focus on the theme of ‘Heroes’. Beyond the likes of Bowie, Madonna, Prince et al, the invitation remains for brands to engage with and campaign on behalf of the LGBT+ community and become heroes, too.
We’d like to say a big “thank you” to Lucien for taking the time to share his insights of Pride with us, it was a truly inspiring evening.
You can find out more about this year’s activities and how you can get involved on the Pride Amsterdam website.