Authentically Engaging in Social Causes – Branding Do’s and Don’ts
Here in the US, many states are whipping out the flags, glitter, incredible home-made posters, wigs, leather and L-O-V-E, to celebrate, parade, march and pay homage to the activists that have demanded inclusion in the face of immense and lethal adversity…June is PRIDE MONTH, BABY!
With pandemic safety measures in place and a community painfully familiar with the trauma and tragedy of sweeping viruses, Pride has evolved to ensure community health. Safe celebrations are in full swing. The architecturally stunning balcony decorations, virtual dance parties, and social distanced, vibrant park picnics make SF a truly magical place during Pride.
As brands large and small join the Pride Month celebrations in an effort to amplify the conversation, some of these activities have fallen fully in the “intention-outcome asymmetry effect,” AKA intended to offer support but ended up hurting folks. These damages range from rainbow-colored lip service, to truly harmful outcomes, damaging humans, hearts, causes and reputations. These blunders can be avoided.
If your brand or organization is thinking about joining the conversation in support of a social cause like Pride Month, make sure you consider the following before donning the rainbow wigs on social:
A great starting place is considering if this cause or social justice issue is one that your brand or organization already engages and supports regularly, outside of the time in the year their triumphs are celebrated. You may have the company values of love and inclusion, but before you consider adding a regular “Pride Month Campaign” to your annual planning, deeply question your motivations for engaging this way. This is what we call fitness – is it a fit for your org? Fitness is essential to authentically engaging, since your organization will already be in the practice of celebrating the lives of these individuals, and should already be known inside the community you intend to support.
If your brand’s motivation for engaging with a social cause is largely financial, expect to cause harm: to your fellow human beings, to that cause, and to your brand reputation. Without a number of deeper values, and a history of support of similar issues and groups, it will be clear to audiences that you are seeking profits through further marginalization of people. You will be a part of the problem; authenticity cannot be faked.
Plan to keep up the narrative. To ensure your brand’s values of inclusivity and support feel genuine, it’s important to keep up the good work! Pride Month may be one of twelve, but advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community (and your team) should be year-round and support developments in that community’s thriveability as they arise in your location and beyond.
Offer a singular effort, non-integrated branded message. That isn’t advocacy, that is performative at best, and will result in the same lose-lose outcome listed above for fit-ness.
Nothing About Us Without Us
Remember, your experience is yours. It is valuable and valid and consists of one person’s story. In order to lovingly, inclusively and effectively support and engage individuals who have experienced immense injustice and discrimination, it is crucial to include members of that community in your planning.
Lean on community members to educate you about their struggles. It is no one’s job but our own to dispel our ignorance with knowledge. Be sure you seek many sources of information, read, listen, hear and make no assumptions. You know what they say about ASSumptions…
Expanding the Narrative
Use design and messaging elements that are fully inclusive of any individual who may consider themselves a part of the community to which your social support is directed. Pride is a celebration of LGBTQIA+…that’s a lot of letters because we are always learning more about the human condition, love, and (outdated) gender dynamics. Expect that the terms, norms and community dynamics will evolve quickly and there are a number of things you (and we) do not know.
It’s crucial to be exceedingly careful with your targeting of messages and imagery – only an individual can identify themselves as part of a community and social cause. Just because a person may follow certain groups on social media, have an appearance you feel aligns them with the cause, or donates to groups does not mean they, themselves, have identified as belonging to that group.
That probably feels like a lot of rules, and there are many more that we haven’t listed. This is worthwhile work, as we believe that the damage of many well-intentioned brands could have been avoided by considering the starter list above. This is an incredible time in our human evolution with so much social change, and it’s only going to get more crucial for brands to support social causes authentically and with purpose. Gen Z is quickly maturing into fully fledged consumers, and will demand stronger pushes for inclusivity; this train is not slowing down and we want to make sure you have a ticket to ride!
It should be mentioned, at Noise 13, we do not claim to be experts in social justice. However, we are a team of huge-hearted, dynamic individuals, from a myriad of backgrounds, who are experts in branding. Our anti-racism, anti-bigotry, and anti-hate journeys are eternal and we know that there will always be improvements possible. Our fear of getting it wrong is really just discomfort, and will not keep us from participating in the conversation and evolving! So, we offer the above recommendations based on our expertise guiding brand values, authenticity and purpose-driven engagement, and welcome your suggestions as we continue to learn more ourselves. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Interested in partnering to plan an authentic community engagement or campaign? We’d love to hear from you. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your goals. We’re looking forward to spreading the love with your brand!