June is Pride Month, and with it comes a surge of corporate event sponsors and products vying for the attention of the LGBTQ community. But when it comes to corporations harnessing the purchasing power of identity politics, it’s hard to know whether it’s about the higher good or the bottom line.
Dodge stepped in it last year when they tried appropriating parts of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech to sell pickup trucks. Now, just halfway through Pride month, several brands are being called out on Twitter for hoping there’s a pot of gold at the end of a marketing rainbow.
Cannabis and Pride
As a market hitting its stride with both support and a spotlight, cannabis brands have several reasons to align themselves on the right side of Pride celebrations. Gay rights activists were actually among the first groups to champion cannabis legalization when they discovered it could alleviate complications caused by AIDS. In 1996, Dennis Peron co-authored a California law that dubbed him the “father of medical marijuana.”
With a long history of half-truths and discrimination, the industry would like to be seen as triumphant in the face of injustice. This is a slippery slope, especially around jaded social media denizens who fiercely protect each other from being used as a marketing tool. And despite the lives ruined by nonviolent marijuana-related felonies, it is still hard to make exact parallels.
That’s why cannabis brands who want to celebrate Pride with the LGBTQ community that supported them need a thoughtful list of best practices. It’s simply not enough to dress up a dispensary in rainbow colors or send out a newsletter with specials for Pride parades.
Be an ally, not a predator
T-shirts are nice, but there needs to be real advocacy behind a Pride campaign. Who are the proceeds going to? Is it a significant amount? If you don’t disclose the exact number, consumers will rightly believe that it’s minimal. Going further, who designed your campaign? Did you include LGBTQ voices in the creation process? If not, it’s hard to speak authentically to this audience.
As an example of a campaign done right is when Lowell Herb Company partnered directly with GLAAD to create a Pride Pack with seven pre-rolls. They advertised that 10% of sales would directly go to the 34-year-old advocacy group. Included in the purchase is a beautifully illustrated poster by LGBTQ artist Dina Rodriguez and Letter Shoppe, which is also inclusive of mixed-race relationships. This campaign only continues to a company history of activism. Last year, Lowell started an initiative to hire nonviolent cannabis offenders.
Supporting Pride doesn’t always have to be all rainbows. Velvet Swing, a cannabis-based lubricant created by SōRSE, supports the community year-round. Advocacy is part of the company’s culture. For instance, the company has sponsored LGBTQ-positive festivals such as Pan Eros, as well as burlesque shows like The Black Manifest and Getting Wild. So, when they partnered with Uncle Ike’s dispensary for Pride this year, it was simply seen as a natural extension of their existing brand philosophy and not a dreaded Hail Mary aimed at the wallets of the marginalized.
Be mindful and kind
No ad campaign can exist independently of a target, and the LGBTQ community is painfully aware that they are a valuable market segment. Make sure that your social media team, your graphic designer and your copywriter are all on the same page when it comes to pandering. Get a second and third set of eyes on your idea—and make sure one of them is someone who identifies as LGBTQ.
Keeping this in mind, the best form of advertising will be predicated by year-round support. A sustained program of inclusivity will build a culture that makes people feel welcomed and not pandered to. Hire for diversity. Establish gender-neutral bathrooms. Purchase from minority and LBGTQ-owned companies. Offer unisex merchandise. Be mindful of whether artwork is gender specific. Partner with advocacy groups to donate a percentage of proceeds to an LGBTQ organization.
Working slowly and thoughtfully can be the deciding factor between positive advocacy and an unintentional Twitterstorm.