By Amanda Matusak, Chief Strategy Officer
Because nothing big happened in 2020, our agency decided to shake things up in 2021 by changing ownership and leadership to women-owned and led. We’ve set a new vision — an evolution of the empathetic approach that kept me at Deskey under old ownership for 20 years — and we’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on what we want the agency to be now.
We knew that we wanted to embrace diversity and inclusion in all its messy glory. We’re not doing it because it’s trendy. We’re doing it because it’s us. And like the rest of the world, we’ve been looking at our own experiences and questioning old assumptions.
As part of this journey, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking about Pride this year. What does it mean? Why do we celebrate it? Why does it matter? And I’m going to get personal here, but that’s what branding is all about — getting personal — getting real — sharing values to build trust. So, let’s do this.
On paper, I’m a cis White woman. But that’s not my full experience. Among other things, I refer to myself as a Sandwich Gay™. I have a gay parent, and I have LGBTQ+ children.
We didn’t talk about my father being gay. He did have his job threatened over it, but he pointed to his three kids as proof he wasn't, and they dropped the threat. I didn’t tell friends because I was afraid of judgment. When I started my career, I didn’t tell clients because I was afraid of losing an account. I got past that, but it was a long road.
I had my first taste of Pride during the March on Washington in 1993. We were there to stand as allies for basic human rights. But what we actually took away was so much more. I discovered I wasn’t alone.
Today, I’m part of a generation of parents running a radical experiment. What happens when you raise your LGBTQ+ kids with love and acceptance rather than shame and punishment like the before times? Thank God for the internet. I know social media has its opportunity areas, but let me tell you, when you find those private groups of people like you, you get to feel less alone.
Yet, I still know the very real fear of sending my kids to school, knowing they are getting comments in the hall like “fag” and “just kill yourself” and hoping they don’t get beat up or worse for who they are. I talk with them about how and when to express their identity because I still live in fear of the world around us.
So, what is Pride month to me? Pride started with protest. It started with backing people into a corner, shoving them into closets, and telling them they are broken and wrong as humans. Congratulations if you’ve never felt this, but for those who know the feeling, you fight back 100-and-crazy percent. It feels like life and death because it is.
Today, Pride month for many is evolving. It’s a celebration of accepting yourself and others for simply being their authentic selves. It’s a celebration of being yourself and trusting that you will find your others. Because as far as we’ve come, it’s still pretty scary being queer in America.
So now, I’m going to bring it back to branding because I’m told this is not the Amanda therapy blog; it’s a branding blog.
What does Pride mean for brands and companies from a consumer’s point of view?
There is no single answer. Some LGBTQ+ see any branding as virtue signaling, as taking advantage of people. Others see it as a beautiful gesture and a way to feel better about what they are buying.
Regardless of the individual’s gut reaction to seeing a rainbow suddenly appear and then disappear from a package, all I can say is knowing you have allies helps. Actions always speak louder than signaling. A brand is nothing without action to keep that promise. And that action needs to occur and be celebrated all year long.
There are some brands who are great at this.
Target goes beyond Pride swag to a long history of financially supporting groups like GLSEN. And I don’t know that because Target is a client and I’m in the industry and know about their passion for inclusion and accessibility on all levels. I know that because they took the time to add a tiny piece of signage that let me, someone who cares enough to look closely, know they have actions behind those fabulous t-shirts.
Starbucks is celebrated by parents of LGBTQ+ because we know that if we send our kids there to work, they will see people like themselves and be treated with respect and dignity.
On a recent trip to IKEA, we spotted these little grooms in a display. It wasn’t a Pride celebration. It was a normalization of love in a very natural form. It said, “You’re in a safe place. You can physically relax and let down your guard.”
Acceptance. Celebration of what makes the individual unique. That’s what Pride means to me.
We’re working hard at Deskey to create something special, and we’re looking for those quiet geniuses who have not found their place to shine and be their authentic selves to come help build this world with our client services and design teams. People who understand that we don’t need to judge each other, fix each other, or assimilate each other. We celebrate our diversity because when we let each person play to their strengths, we create magic together.
So, as we wrap up Pride month, we’re not wrapping up our journey. We’re inviting you to come play with us as we laugh, learn, and strive to make the world a little better for all.