Brands at Pride. Just an Act of Appropriation?

Content Strategy

This weekend the streets of London and many other cities were awash with rainbow flags in celebration of Pride. Each year around June and July the UK explodes in colour, and this year it seems support for the LGBT+ community has reached ubiquity with brands joining the Pride movement. Undoubtedly, as widespread support for the LGBT+ community grows, so does the incentive for brands to align themselves with this growing sentiment.

Walking down Oxford Street, it’s hard to miss the endless array of rainbow displays. Topshop’s wall has been painted in rainbow colours. John Lewis had a “Proud to Celebrate Pride” rainbow sign. Three had a window display with the hashtag “Love is Good”. As did New Balance proclaiming “Love for All”. H&M had an entire clothing range dedicated to Pride gear. But it throws up the question – have we reached a point where we’re commercialising an incredibly important social movement?


64% of consumers claim to choose brands because of their stand on social issues

91% of millennials would switch brands for one which champions a cause


Consumers are discerning, today more than ever. They can see through superficial shop fronts and colourful campaigns. A brand attempting to align themselves with a cause that they have no real strategic or cultural connection with does neither the brand perception nor the cause any good in the immediate or long term (read more about how short-termism can kill your brand here). Jumping on the bandwagon may get them a quick boost of awareness, but at what point does it just seem like an act of appropriation?

Here are some of the Pride brand activations that stood out to us, for the right and wrong reasons…

The Good: MAC Cosmetics

MAC cosmetics is a great example of a brand that supports the LGBT+ community – beyond one month of the year. Their Pride campaigns have consistently made a splash each year, and 2019’s ‘Mac Loves Pride’ is no different. The global campaign is supporting LGBT+ networks worldwide, and highlights the company’s desire to create deep change – a policy that is ingrained throughout the organisation, not just the marketing department. Since MAC’s inception, inclusivity has always been at the crux of its image. Their mission is based on the premise that ‘achieving real LGBT+  equality will save lives by yielding improved healthcare and reduced stigma’. Another notable year-round campaign of theirs is the MAC AIDS fund, recently rebranded as the MAC Viva Glam fund to focus efforts on LGBT equality. Over the past 25 years, they’ve raised £400 million from the sale of Viva Glam lipstick products with 100% of the proceeds funding this initiative. Real purpose takes real commitment – and we certainly applaud their dedication, paving the way for other brands.

The Bad: Costa 

This year Costa Coffee has launched one of its biggest marketing campaigns yet for Pride Month – replacing their signature red cups with multi-coloured ones, and redesigning their classic white logo to feature the rainbow colours of the Pride flag, alongside many other high street chains. An exciting show of support on the surface – but behind the ‘rainbow-washed’ logo is any positive action for the LGBT+ community actually taking place? The answer, in this instance, is unfortunately a no. Costa Coffee themselves have previously admitted that no proceeds will be going to charity, which leads us to assume that this can only be a short term marketing ploy to boost brand visibility – a transparent strategy to consumers that may well harm them in the long term.


The Ugly: Gymbox

Gymbox have come under fire this week for a sign advertising their range of LGBT+ fitness classes in support of Pride month. The poster in question formed an acronym of LGBT+ and read ‘Legs, Glutes, Traps + Plenty of Sweat’ – a seemingly harmless campaign strapline to some on the surface, but dig (just a little) deeper and you’ll find that ‘traps’ is an offensive slang term historically used to refer to the transgender community. The blunder was quickly called out by many on social media and the company have since removed all signs and apologised for the ‘unknowing damage’ caused. An unknowing mistake, sure, but one that could have been avoided with some simple research into the cause they were purporting to support. The controversy is a firm reminder that consumers today are more judicious than ever before, and brands looking to stand for a social cause should do so with care, caution and integrity.


Advertising is a powerful tool. It has the ability to send out a message of acceptance and support. But the biggest takeaway here is the important role of authenticity. The best brands are those who align themselves with a cause that truly resonates with their values and belief systems. It is these brands who continue the narrative and connect with their consumers beyond just being culturally relevant at that moment in time. Without this truth, they run the risk of being tarred with the ‘rainbow-washing’ brush.

By Chiara Colella, Account Manager & Grace Lee, Account Executive at Studio Black Tomato