By AJ Lamarque
Every morning I open my letterbox to see if anything interesting has arrived. As a millennial, the only things that I ever receive by post are letters addressed to old tenants, bank statements I’m sure I unsubscribed to, regrettable Asos deliveries I ordered a week ago and forgot about, and junk mail. So much junk mail.
I regularly see the same spam culprits on my daily ventures to the letterbox and the more I do, the more I get irritated with everything they represent. I get annoyed having these repetitive messages shoved down my throat (cheeky!). I also harbour a deep disdain for one local real estate agent who wears too much foundation for a guy who probably thinks wearing anything but a stiff-collared shirt is “gay”.
Recently though when I went to my letterbox I saw a new culprit. A brand (I shall not name through fear of a lawsuit) had doused their leaflet with sparkles, rainbows, a gay couple hugging and, in a unique and never before seen move, slapped the word ‘PRIDE’ dead-centre. Like I did with all spam, my immediate response was that of aggravation.
As I dropped the leaflet into the bin though I had a sobering thought. The experience of me throwing this embracing gay couple into the literal trash made me think about all the other people who received this leaflet. What if they felt the same thing? But unlike me who regularly engages with the breadth of the Queer existence, what if this leaflet was the only interaction someone had with anything remotely gay. And it was spam.
Would they understand that the people, the community and the movement of LGBQTIA+ equality was a completely separate thing to marketing? Or would they lump us all in together and feel like the Queer “agenda” was being “shoved down their throats”?.
I realised I had engaged with this concept before as a marketer. These people who react negatively to a brand are known as brand detractors. Not only are they not going to buy from companies they dislike, they’re now more likely to complain about them, write negative reviews and oppose what they stand for. This is not necessarily because of what the product actually is, but because of their direct experience with the brand. And in this case, that was repetitive spam.
My mind went immediately to Pride month and other key dates in the Queer visibility calendar where the abundance of marketing for rainbow-products becomes obscene. There’s not a TV ad, billboard or sponsored post that doesn’t include either a rainbow, gay guys just about to make out or a drag queen… or all three. I know I personally felt so exhausted during WorldPride earlier this year with the overwhelming amount of Rainbow marketing. And I think most of my community would agree with me.
Beyond the general lack of ethics behind supporting a movement for the sole purpose of brand image and monetary gain there’s potentially a nasty side effect that I’d never considered before. Intentionally or unintentionally, companies have shifted LGBTQIA+ visibility from a community movement for equal rights to a commodity. A commodity that they oversaturate the market with on regular intervals which have the combined effect of becoming spam. Queer rights are now spam. We’ve become spam. I’m spam. But now this spam is actively creating brand detractors against my very existence.
And, if all the above is true, then are big brands a contributing factor in the rise anti-queer rhetoric?
I’m sure if anyone who works in marketing reading this now holds me in a position of contempt for even inferring their allyship is in fact one of the reasons why the world feels like it’s slipping backwards in Queer rights. But, I would firstly point out intention and impact and separate things. And secondly, will your company still continue to support pride movements if it starts dangerously impacting sales? Who knows… but the drop in Pride campaigns due to backlash is beginning to paint a picture of the potential future.