Have Some Real Pride: Why Everyone’s Wising Up To ‘Purpose-Washing’

by Mike Foster on 05/06/2020 | 4 Minute Read

When the organizers of Belgium Pride announced that they would require potential sponsors to submit to a vetting process to determine whether they are genuinely committed to diversity or not, they upped the ante on purpose-washing.

The move threw into sharp relief how we’re all wising up, and can spot the difference between a brand or business that’s just paying lip service to a particular movement, versus one that believes it from the inside out. 

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No Waffling

To pass muster for Belgium Pride this year and into the future (the country's pride festivities have been moved from May to August in the wake of COVID-19), any corporation that wished to get involved would get screened to flush out any pink-washing brand or corporations. They scanned human resources policies for diversity, while they also analyzed internal and external communications. Masculine pronouns your default setting? A big, black mark. Inclusive recruitment strategy? A big pink tick. 

For years, allying to a particular event or movement has seemed like a no-brainer for lots of brands. So long as you join the party, you'll get increased exposure and higher sales. But there’s plenty of evidence to show that if you talk the talk and don’t walk the walk, it can go very badly. 

Irish clothing company Penney’s (Primark in the USA and the UK) is a case in point. The budget chain found itself in hot water after consumers found out that they manufactured their Pride T-shirts in countries with appalling LGBTQ+ track records. Adidas arguably came across as more opportunist than ally when it launched its Pride Pack before throwing its weight behind the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a country that prohibits what it calls "gay propaganda." 

But done well, it can be really effective. Just look at Nike and Colin Kaepernick. They did the right thing, not the easy thing—and being authentic was a $6 billion win for the sportswear brand. 

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True Allies Only

What Belgium is acknowledging is that, while businesses have been showing allegiance symbolically for a while now (adding rainbows to packaging, for example), more of us are now demanding to know just how deep that sentiment goes. 

Consumers aren’t daft. They need more than a glittery rainbow slapped onto a cheap, white T-shirt, or a bottle of gin, or a candy pack, to signal that a business is on board with LGBTQ+ causes. 

And it looks like other Pride events are following suit. London’s sponsors – Barclays, Tesco, and Amazon, among others – have all gone to great lengths to demonstrate to the world that they have inclusivity and social responsibility at heart. Though it stops short of vetting, London, which is one of the colossal Pride events in the world, makes very clear that it’s talking about sponsors’ core values here. You can keep your platitudes.  

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Broadly Speaking

It’s by no means confined to Pride and LGBTQ+ rights. Research carried out by market research company Clutch shows we respond better to brands that display genuine corporate responsibility overall. And with the majority of people believing that companies should do more than offer a product or service, there is no better time to do good, and be seen doing it.

The beliefs and values that drive a company are becoming increasingly important as people are more aware of the impact their buying decisions have on the world around them – whether their concerns focus on the environment, inclusivity and diversity, or on staying away from businesses with questionable policies, ethics and backstories.

To resonate with your consumers, a company's standpoint has to come from deep within. For those brand values to be evident and believable, they should be part of a business’s DNA and lived by everyone involved. 

Get Your House in Order

Brand management has a role to play here. For companies to demonstrate their core values to an increasingly savvy audience in a meaningful way, everyone, from the shop floor, to the c-suite, needs to live the brand from the inside-out. 

It is essential to create a culture of active brand management – one that consistently and clearly communicates their values, instilling them throughout the team to enable deep connections and alignment for a sustainable and authentic brand. Every decision an organization makes should be attached to its core values. 

If it doesn’t ring true, it just won’t wash anymore. Belgium has raised the bar, and it won’t be long before people demand the same of other event organizers. Ultimately, if potential sponsors, brands, and businesses want people to be proud of their association with them, companies need to be proud of who they are too.

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