When I rated the worst Pride brand tie-ins couple of years ago, I coined the term "just put a rainbow on it!" to describe the mentality of big brands doing the absolute least to cash in on an LGBTQ+ event that’s historically rooted in protest and oppression. Since then, the situation has definitely escalated. Years & Years singer Olly Alexander recently Instagrammed a screengrab of an email his manager had received, asking the musician to post about an “amazing Pride collection” created by a famous brand.
"My manager has been getting requests like this every day. I’m guessing it was emailed out to a bunch of people, no details on what this amazing Pride collection is or what this big famous brand with lots of money plan to do with any ‘proceeds’," Alexander wrote in the caption. "Re-doing your logo in a rainbow and ‘dOnAtInG a PoRTiOn Of pRoCeEds’ is not enough!!!!... I wish brands would realise how embarrassing this kind of shit is."
In fairness, many companies probably feel that they are simply doing their bit to support LGBTQ+ rights when coming up with ever more elaborate Pride-themed products. In any case, rainbow flags in your local supermarket provide a mainstream pro-gay visibilty that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. But if you’re a big brand creating a Pride burger, T-shirt or face cream, knowing full well that it’s going to bring you some lovely free publicity, you absolutely have to be donating all profits from that item to an LGBTQ+ charity.
With that in mind, here’s my pick of 2019’s cringiest of the big brand’s Pride tie-ins, from the tragic to the absurd. N.B. This piece is best enjoyed while listening to that meme of Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz saying “gay rights!”
5) GLOW BAR GIVING THE RAINBOW LATTE A GLOW-UP
The rainbow latte has become a Pride season cliche but this year, London wellness destination Glow Bar has well and truly raised the ga(y)me. Its take on this “just put a rainbow on it” classic is apparently made with blue spirulina, vanilla, turmeric, ginger, beetroot and matcha. The latte costs an actual fiver to buy one (help) but at least all proceeds are going to LGBTQ+ charity London Friend. And it’s so ridiculously extra and expensive that it’s almost difficult to find it offensive. Look again at that list of ingredients – it’s basically Gwyneth Paltrow saying “gay rights!” in drink form.
4) THE MARKS AND SPENCER LGBT SANDWICH
If M&S had wanted to make a real statement this Pride season, it could have let Percy Pig come out as gay. Instead, the supermarket has spaffed some guacamole into an otherwise bog-standard BLT sandwich, jazzed up the packaging a bit and donated £20,000 to an LGBTQ youth homelessness charity to cover its back. I’m already looking forward to 2020’s even more inclusive M&S LGBTQ+ salad bowl. In the meantime, I don’t need to tell you that proper gay sandwiches can be found on Xtube or in the steam room at Chariots.
3) THE SAD PRIDE AISLE AT TESCO :'(
Did some of the most marginalised members of the LGBTQ+ community throw the first bricks at the Stonewall riots so that, 50 years later, Tesco could release its own range of rainbow cups and paper plates? Of course not – but in a strange way, the fact that Tesco’s Pride aisle is every bit as half-arsed and unimaginative as its typical Father’s Day and Easter displays might just represent some kind of progress.
Tesco is this year’s Pride in London “headline partner”, which presumably means it stumped up quite a lot of cash, but the supermarket chain probably deserves more credit for always stocking its Dean Street branch with aisles and aisles of cheap tinnies on Pride day. That’s what I call an ally.
2) LISTERINE'S RAINBOW MAKEOVER
Listerine’s rainbow-coloured mouthwash bottle appears to be another example of Pride season brand strategising, but it’s actually slightly more grisly than that. When gay activist Gilbert Baker created the original eight-stripe rainbow flag in 1978, he assigned specific meanings to each of its colours – orange represents healing, green represents nature, yellow represents sunlight, etc. The good folks at Listerine have quoted most of these attributes on the Pride-themed bottle of Cool Mint, but neglected to mention that hot pink represents sex. Are they worried that straight shoppers might be turned off by the idea of bumming and strap-ons as they shop for toiletries? Mind you, this prudish streak isn’t entirely surprising from a brand that’s been telling us for years to spit, not swallow.
1) UGG'S PRIDE 'SLIPPPERS'
First point to note: Ugg is calling these fluffy footwear items "sandals", but they’re clearly slippers. Second: they’re available in colours "inspired by" but not quite matching the trans flag. Third: they’re ugly af. Fourth: I’ve been racking my brains all day and concluded that the only person who could possibly get away with wearing a pair of purple fluffy slippers to Pride is queenly Hollywood great and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor. And she’s been dead for eight years.