Social awareness and committed brands are a highlighted perspective for fashion marketing right now. Today we share insights on brand activism without epic fails.

Every June, thousands of brands in all categories start the so-called “pride activation campaign”, the organization’s target: the LGBTQ+ community.  The idea is to show them how progressive they are, and how great a logo looks like with a multicolor shade, without actually taking any actions to benefit or move forward LGBTQ+ rights

This is a classic example of “pink-washing” a coined term to describe this type of mischievous behavior from corporations, countries, or governments trying to project a positive image and friendliness towards the LGBTQ+ community. 

These actions are made for the organization to be perceived as inclusive and respectful for diversity and gender orientation, when in fact, the organization has policies in place that show almost the contrary. Sometimes these marketing actions even try to diminish past negative actions or divert attention from them.  

A PR effort to clean corporate image is malpractice rooted in transversal sectors and affects the credibility of the organization or the brands involved. You have probably heard similar terms such as “green-washing” -regarding environmental issues with zero real implication in sustainability- or “purple-washing”– regarding visibility of the feminist movement without actions to change and break the “glass ceiling” for example. 

“Pink-washing”, also known as “rainbow-washing”, is a problematic path for any brand for two main reasons. First, performing Pride gimmicks for one month a year does not make a company an ally, their false façade will fall sooner or later, as their intentions are not based on shared values. Second, using a minority group to profit without really getting involved in their reality, concerns, needs, and actual lifestyle, is unfair as it is only seen as a mere consumption market. 

That capitalist agenda linked to the pride marches is the complete opposite of what The Stonewall Riots in 1969 meant, which was leading to the modern US gay rights movement. Pride is not supposed to be a party or a market celebration that companies can profit from. It certainly is a commitment to inclusion, authentic values, and being part of the global civil rights conversation.

Brand Activism: Create a Strategy Around a Social Issue, and Mean It

Brand strategists and fashion marketing experts need to integrate brand purpose with tangible actions to pursue brand awareness beyond profit. Activism in this context is not only about brand positioning, but a means to build brand loyalty; it is also about making a statement and fulfilling it, as customers, now more than ever, want their brands to be politically involved,eco-friendly, and to create a safe work environment for all. 

Brand activism is related to the new business paradigms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). The powerful dynamic between these areas is transforming companies, turning them from indifference into proactivity towards achieving justice and an equally fair world. Brand activism has to do with “how progressive businesses are taking stands to create a better world” stated Phillip Kotler and Christian Sakar in their book, Brand Activism: from purpose to action

People want their brands to advocate for the same values and beliefs they hold, either to be LGBTQ+ supportive, anti-racist, or demand fair work payments. For example, 85% of the average US public would switch consumer brands over their association to a cause, according to a research study by Cone Communications, highlighting the opportunity to empower progressive activism and to communicate it. 

Do It Right and Do Not Use the LGBTQ+ Community as a Token in Your Fashion Communication 

Fashion has been one of the industries with the most public backlash in the last few years.  Mainly due to a systemic opacity towards its activities, a lack of inclusivity in fashion communication campaigns, in addition to deficient communications messages in sensitive topics such as racism, elitism, or biased representations about beauty.

Customers are now completely aware of the power of their wallets. They know every fashion choice involves a political act, and they have learned how to raise their voice thanks to social media channels.

How to Avoid “Pink-washing”? 

-Do not believe in hype, believe in purpose: Think about your brand’s core values, how can you match the ideal scenario with the current reality towards social commitments inside the brand?. Everybody talking about purpose does not mean you have to copy the same strategies. Find your authentic route and trace a strategy where honesty is present, as well as, acknowledge that this is a long-run effort. Avoid “corporate pride” and empty gestures, no one is buying it. 

-Be inclusive and prove it: You cannot claim you care about diversity and a body-positive image if you portray standardized beauty clichés in your advertising campaigns. This not only has to do with external communication, but also with inside employee policies that guarantee inclusive teams, equal treatment, and visibility in senior management positions. If your brand is committed, it has to create measurable outcomes, a valuable proof of that sincere effort to make all people feel included. 

-Connect with organizations that make real actions: As a brand, you cannot do it all, even if you are willing to make a pride fashion collection and donate the revenues, for example, there is another path beyond selling. Find local organizations supporting LGBTQ+ education, health, or social issues and create a long-term partnership with them, brainstorm innovative ideas to match the brand to the cause. 

Promoting a social cause is not a trend, and it never will be. Brands must look for authenticity and empathy in their communication strategy. Commitment matters and there is no time left to waste.