This year, like last year, I spent the parade at Pride on the open top of a bus. As it passed in front of Selfridges on Oxford Street, a friend remarked that, unlike last year where they had some half-naked guy or other handing out stuff, nothing seemed to be happening there to mark Pride. We didn’t think about it much at the time.
When I got home however and started checking out the pictures of Pride uploaded to Flickr, I quickly found out the reason for this change.
Selfridges had teamed up with Calvin Klein to hire a bunch of skimpily-clad models to take part in the parade itself, carrying a banner and handing out flyers.
Selfridges and CK are obviously not the first non-gay commercial organisations to take part in Pride (British Airways or BT come to mind). And it is obviously a great thing that parts of the wider community should want to reach out and support the LGBT community. That they should decide that, contrary to a still fairly widely-held belief, this visible support will not have adverse consequences for them and their business.
These organisations should indeed by praised for their progressive thinking but, generally, those companies are represented by members of their LGBT staff network. They are not, as Selfridges was all too clearly doing on Saturday, engaging in clumsy and crass commercial opportunism.
Whoever in Selfridges’ marketing department had the idea of this stunt clearly has no clue of what Pride is about. At a time when so many think it is not political enough, it should certainly not be used as an opportunity to sell your stuff and try and profit on the mythical pink pound.
Pride, and this should be all the more obvious on the year marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, is an affirmation. A declaration to the world that the LGBT community is alive and well and not ready to be kept in a closet. Pride is, and should remain, first and foremost a protest.
The vacuous theme of “come out and play” chosen this year by the organisers, certainly couldn’t have helped to rectify our hapless marketeer’s erroneous perceptions.
Furthermore, using a group of half-naked, muscly, tanned and waxed pretty-boys (most of whom are probably not even gay), seems to me to be incredibly patronising and subtly insulting coming from a organisation that is not actually part of the community.
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It seems to say that the LGBT community is very shallow indeed, that its attention can only be attracted by appealing to its basest instincts. This is, at the very least, an easy, cheap and unoriginal way to proceed, not to mention that many people in the community are not actually attracted by the “body beautiful”. Even I, who is rather partial to this sort of physique found this bunch strangely
And, of course, this stunt also completely negates the existence of lesbians.
This sort of unfortunate, inconsiderate, tokenistic and ultimately prejudiced way of trying to engage with any community (gay, black, older, disabled, …) can be more damaging than anything else to a brand.
My suggestion to Selfridges and CK for next year is to save their money in hiring all those model and to instead send a group of their LGBT staff. Thus showing that they truly value diversity and don’t only see it as a marketing gimmick.
Better still, they could team up with community groups or small charities, sponsor their float and support their actions beyond this involvement for Pride.
This goes, of course for any other non-gay business thinking about join in the fun.
On the night of the march, I sent Selfridges a tweet to that effect (twitter.com/zefrog) Sadly no one deemed it worth a reply. Today, I sent a reminder, asking for a reply.
Let’s see what happens and hope that Selfridges will not compound its sin with bad PR.
Nicolas Chinardet is involved with various LGBT community organisations and charities. He has an interest in current affairs, the arts and corporate communication. Find out more at www.zefrog.eu.