As I watched a million pieces of rainbow glitter cascade off a bottle of vodka and down to the floor having just unboxed it from equally glittery packaging, three things occurred to me. One, I really do love glitter (and vodka). Two, “glitter” is a portmanteau for “gay litter.” And three, I think we’ve finally reached critical mass for LBGTQ+ Pride Month branding.
If you live within a hundred miles of any Pride celebration (or have internet) I don’t have to explain that corporate marketing around Pride month (June) has become more a rule than an exception, with more clever adaptations of the rainbow insignia than a Lisa Frank binder. And yes, sometimes it reeks of unfettered corporate opportunism because, well, mostly it is. But maybe that’s okay.
this year’s shrunken Pride campaign roster. To be fair, some brands may be dealing with marketing budget shortages thanks to COVID-19 and the economic downturn, but, even accounting for that, a search for the word “pride” in my email inbox turned up almost nothing. To be clear, it’s a sign of the times, and a good one, that public opinion has shifted in such a way that brands feel empowered, nay compelled, to fly their pride colors as brightly as queer people, activists, and allies have for decades. Of course, few major (or minor) corporations make any decision about their outward-facing image without considering its impact on the bottom line, and clearly there’s a pot of gold at the end of this modern marketing rainbow. If ever there was proof of this, 2020, a year in which most in-person pride celebrations and parades have been canceled, has seen a major drop in corporate pride month sponsorship and campaigns. As a food reporter who receives literally hundreds of marketing campaign pitches per week, I can attest to this firsthand, but advertising and marketing magazine Digiday did an even deeper dive on
So yeah, the joy of seeing all this “rainbow-washing” in June is dually met with cynicism and the occasional eye roll from me and my LGBTQ+ cohorts but, at the end of the day, representation matters. Exposure matters. And so does solidarity, even if it’s instructed by a mix of motivations not all of which are wholly pure.
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Speaking with Jehan Agrama, one of the founding members of GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who happens to co-own a food brand of her own called Lemonette Dressings, she shares the same mixed sentiment. GLAAD along with groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) have always kept a close watch and scorecard for brands who were there for the LGBTQ+ community in the darker days of marriage bans and nightclub raids—a time when branding for Pride mostly didn’t exist.
Agrama still remembers goosebumps she felt seeing the iconic Absolut Vodka bottle, so famous for its clever advertising, adorned with a rainbow flag for the first time in the late 1990s. Ben & Jerry’s, which still maintains a solid score of 95 on the HRC’s corporate equality index, was another early adopter of LGBTQ+ support, offering benefits, protections, and promotions for queer employees as far back as 1989—long before it was popular. And when marriage equality finally passed they released a celebratory ice cream flavor called “I Dough, I Dough.”
As we moved through the beginning of the 21st century, and into a more accepting America, Pride month has presented an opportunity for food and drink brands to safely market to this “new” demographic as it came roaring out of the shadows, and many have done so with varying degrees of deftness. “In those early days, we liked being considered a new market because we were considered one for the first time,” Agrama remembers. “Just being considered at all was a major step forward.”
These days over 60 percent of the population supports marriage equality and, mostly because of that, rainbow packaging, messaging, and swag are nearly ubiquitous this time of year. Everything from booze bottles to candy wrappers, clever social media images, and storefront decals but, of course, most of that doesn’t really tell you much taken at face value. Agrama suggests people “dig a bit deeper into a brand’s history and, more importantly, what the current iteration of the brand is doing to support LGBTQ+ rights and causes with donations, community outreach, and its treatment of employees (see the HRC’s index) if you want to be discerning about how you spend your money.” Another thing to look out for and give credit when it’s due is a brand’s commitment to donating a set amount of money to LGBTQ+ charities versus those who simply donate a portion of sales on a special edition Pride release—an obvious marketing ploy. The most genuine corporate support of a social cause shouldn’t be conditioned on the brand’s profit.
Related Reading: Best & Worst LGBTQ-Minded Food Brands to Work For
Certain brands with a long legacy of support wear their history of commitment to Pride like a well-earned badge of honor. Tito’s Handmade and Smirnoff vodka, for instance, have both publicly supported LGBTQ+ causes for more than two decades, and continue to sponsor pride events nationwide touting their resumes. Starbucks—another longtime ally—has a published timeline of key LGBTQ+ milestones & moments on its website showcasing both past and present commitment to the cause. All three brand alignments, altruistic as they may be, are still not entirely coincidental. Even the most rudimentary meme search will surface evidence of a longstanding affinity for vodka and iced coffee amongst gays and so for a brand to return some of that support surely has a few bottom-line benefits.
The Lavender Scare, $29.45 on Amazon
Required reading for Pride month.
Newer brands, without history to reference, have also worked to establish themselves as staunch allies with robust LGBTQ+ campaigns, mostly centered around Pride Month but some reaching past June. Snack bar company Kind created a special Pride nut bar last year donating all the proceeds to LGBTQ+ charity, while Seattle’s Elysian Brewing released GLITTERis Pride Ale with actual glitter hiding behind the can’s label to be uncovered, flung in joy, and eventually dust-busted away.
The full list of brands—even in the food & drink category—who have or plan to roll out a Pride campaign of one sort or another would be long. Very long. So instead you’ll find a cross-section of old guard food and drink brands, as well as some new kids on the block who are shining their rainbow colors in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Smirnoff Vodka has been working on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community for decades and last year enlisted a veritable army of Pride ambassadors including Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, drag superstar Alyssa Edwards, and trans activist and actress Laverne Cox. In addition to sponsoring events in and around World Pride (NYC), in June 2017 the legacy brand launched its Smirnoff “Love Wins” bottles, which feature an iridescent rainbow aesthetic and photographs of real couples and real love. For every bottle made, Smirnoff has pledged $1 to HRC totaling nearly $1.5 million by 2021!
Just Salad was an official sponsor of World Pride last year when they reintroduced The Big Gay Garden Salad with proceeds benefiting LGBTQ+ organizations. In addition to Pride activations throughout the month, the salad spot will be feeding hundreds of NYC Pride volunteers on Pride weekend.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Stonewall Inn IPA is brewed in support of The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative and is now in its 4th year. The beer is available all over the US, in select countries, and of course in NYC to commemorate Pride.
Related Reading: 10 Must-Have Cookbooks by LGBTQ+ Cooks
Tito’s Handmade Vodka, an Austin-based vodka producer, has long been a supporter of the LGBTQ community. Tito’s supports hundreds of nonprofits annually via the company’s Love, Tito’s philanthropy team. One of the first nonprofits that Tito worked with over two decades ago was Project Transitions, an Austin-based organization dedicated to serving people with HIV and AIDS.
Chipotle is celebrating Pride in perhaps my all-time favorite way with giggle-inducing “¿Homo Estás?” t-shirts. In addition to making me full out belly-laugh, the Mexican fast-casual chain has donated to The Trevor Project, and hosts fundraisers for LGBT nonprofits across the country.
Absolut Vodka is bringing back its groundbreaking rainbow bottle and launched a multi-year partnership supporting GLAAD’s work in accelerating acceptance for the LGBT community. The vodka brand has also enlisted iconic pop photographer David LaChapelle to honor the spirit of Stonewall through an impactful image with EJ Johnson, Alexandra Grey, Sasha Velour, and his longtime muse and queer icon, Amanda Lepore.
Shake Shack is bringing back the beloved cake batter and sprinkle-bedazzled Pride Shake, and committing $25,000 to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
Goose Island‘s 312 Dry-Hopped beer can is wrapped in an iridescent label this year, reflecting back every color of the rainbow. The Chicago brewery is giving $1 for every can sold to Project Fierce Chicago, a grassroots initiative to create transitional housing for homeless LGBTQ+ young adults.
Tank Garage Winery released “Love & Pride” to celebrate pride. The edgy wine producer has committed to contributing at least $7,500 of the proceeds from “Love & Pride” to LGBTQ Connection via Tank Cares.
Watch: Pride Conversation with Libby Willis & Bill Clark of MeMe’s Diner in Brooklyn
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