World Pride 2014 Toronto is in full swing and the city is awash in a sea of rainbow flags.
This year's Pride festivities mark a "coming out" opportunity for companies to join the celebration of sexual diversity and stimulate a dialogue that reinforces their core values.
This global event contrasts sharply with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, where many brands shared concerns that any mention of sexual diversity could have negative consequences for Canadian athletes.
World Pride represents a tremendous opportunity to align your brand with an important movement – but such support needs to be authentic and genuine or else you risk your strategy backfiring. If your messages surrounding same sex issues aren't consistent when Pride is over, you can leave your company vulnerable to criticism for taking a calculated, short-term stance.
For companies like TD Bank – the premier sponsor of Toronto's Pride Week since 2006 – the decision to stand behind this movement was a fit because gay rights are a pillar of the company's core values, which include financial planning for same-sex couples and equalizing taxes on employee benefits for same-sex domestic partners.
This type of clarity around what your brand really stands for is crucial. Are you wrapping yourself in a rainbow flag simply to participate in a trending event or do you proudly wear these colours year-round?
Here are some things to keep in mind for brands looking to align behaviour and values:
Be authentic. This year, event organizers are expecting more than two million people to attend World Pride, with millions more tracking the festivities online. If your brand message isn't genuine, that's two million potential skeptics who could see your brand as simply jumping on the bandwagon. Counter this by showing what your brand is doing to support the cause, beyond placing your logo on official programs and websites, and that your strategy to support the LGBT community is a long term one.
For example, clothing retailer, Over the Rainbow, has made great strides in supporting Toronto's LGBT community. The apparel store partnered with local Toronto artist Gio Petrucci, as well as made in Canada retailer, Redwood Classics Apparel, to design, source and produce #PRIDECODETO tanks and t-shirts. All proceeds from this initiative will go to Fife House, an affordable housing and provider of support services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the GTA.
Be consistent. Focus your initiatives. Irrespective of Pride, too many conversations can dilute your message and prove disastrous, especially when messages overlap or become confusing. Find the partnership that resonates with what your brand stands for.
Hilton, sponsor and official hotel partner of World Pride 2014, created a dedicated microsite and vacation packages for LGBT travelers. However, it's not all about Pride; these services are offered year-round, reaffirming the company's support for the community is at the core of its values. Not only does this consistency show Hilton's audience it is a supporter of the community, and not just the festival, it has the potential to create a consumer following, which can in turn produce valuable brand ambassadors.
An authentic, transparent and consistent approach that encourages two-way conversation and demonstrates your brand's core values will engage consumers, build credibility, more clearly define your brand and earn trust. The theme of World Pride 2014 is "Rise Up" and it's a chance for Canadian brands to do just that.
But when the confetti blows and the flags come down, where will you stand?
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.