Companies from every sector of the economy are celebrating Pride this month with rainbow logos, LGBTQ-themed marketing campaigns, and new product launches.
Yet branding experts note that simply acknowledging Pride in June can undermine a corporate brand as well as undercut the fundamental message of Pride, which consists of protecting human rights and celebrating a community that has long been discriminated against.
"Any recognition of this community and the strides they are making is a positive," Joseph Anthony, the founder and CEO of the marketing firm Hero Group, told Cheddar. "I think where brands tend to misfire and misstep is when they just get in and then get out."
The celebratory month, nonetheless, is a major money maker for corporations with hundreds of brands offering Pride-related sales. The e-commerce search engine CouponFollow compiled dozens of Pride discounts from Calvin Klein offering 25 percent off several items to CheapOAir offering discounted flights.
Yet marketing campaigns fail to really honor the LGBTQ community if they are not supported with activism, Anthony said.
"Advocacy partnerships should go hand-in-hand with any campaign. Finding ways to empower this community and those groups to continue to do the important work that they do is table stakes now," he added.
American Eagle Outfitters, for example, has partnered with the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit working to support and empower LGBTQ youth. The clothing brand will donate 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of its "It Gets Better" clothing collection to the eponymous organization. Reebok also pledged to donate up to $50,000 to Fenway Health, an LGBTQ healthcare organization, and H&M is giving 10 percent of its sales from its Pride collection to the United Nations' Free & Equal Campaign, which launched in 2013 to promote equal rights for LGBTQ people worldwide.
"If we don't hold brands accountable to better ideas, they will continue to see us as one-dimensional rainbow dollar signs, capitalizing on our oppression and giving nothing back for decades to come," Fran Tirado, the deputy editor of Out Magazine, said on Twitter.
Activists also note that effective corporate marketing campaigns should be developed by diverse marketing experts, include insight from LGBTQ individuals, and be sustained beyond the month of June.
For instance, the shaving brand Harry's was lauded this year for its commercial, which was released in April, that featured a transgender man shaving.
Credibility and authenticity, Anthony said, also matter when launching Pride-themed campaigns. Target, for example, was the earliest major retailer to offer gender neutral bathrooms and paid leave to newly gay parents, giving the company solid footing to publish Pride advertisments.
"You have to really build that culture from the inside out before you even know what you can say to the community externally," Anthony said.
Several brands, like AT&T, have also faced criticism on social media this month for publically celebrating Pride, yet continuing to make political donations to lawmakers that have consistenly voted against LGBTQ initiatives. AT&T last year donated $36,850 to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and $12,500 to Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), according to the political watchdog group Open Secrets.
Blackburn and Collins have both consistently voted against LGBTQ protection bills and received a 0 out of 100 rating from Human Rights Campaign's political scorecard.
Home Depot, which was recently ranked one of the best places to work for LGBTQ equality, also donated $10,000 to Collins last year, Open Secrets reported.