Marketing the Rainbow

Pride 2018: Hema wedding
Everyone should be able to celebrate love and turn it into a commitment. In many European countries this was not yet possible in 2018. Hema thought that theme was worthy of attention. That is why they organized the Hema wedding during Pride Week. At their invitation, three European couples, who could not marry in their own country, got into the Hema marriage boat, such as George and George from Romania. The couples were selected in collaboration with the COC. A church in Amsterdam was the setting for the wedding ceremony - and that was a pity, because marriage is a civil affair, and it should be for many people. There are still (too) many denominations and religions that do not want to participate in this: sin, haram and so on.

In addition to organizing the weddings, Hema also sold festive rainbow tompouces during the Pride week of 2018. These were for sale in all Amsterdam Hema stores with a pastry department and could be ordered online throughout the country. The proceeds from each tompouce went to the COC.

The post about this on IG generated almost 8,000 hearts, while the average is around 1,000.

The formerly "Hollandsche Eenheidstarieven Maatschappij Amsterdam" (= HEMA, meaning Dutch Uniform Prices Company Amsterdam) is a Dutch chain of department stores, with nearly 800 branches in six countries. The company was founded in 1926 by Leo Meyer and Arthur Isaac, directors-general of Magazijn De Bijenkorf. In addition to the Netherlands (546), there are branches in Belgium (100), Luxembourg (4), Germany (18), France (72) and Austria (7). The adventures in Spain, the UK, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates are over. 

About 250 of the stores are operated by franchisees, making Hema one of the largest franchisors in the Netherlands. In 2016, the company had approximately 11,000 employees. The department store is characterized by a range of products for daily use and an assortment that is almost entirely specially produced for Hema.

Until July 2007, Hema was part of Maxeda (which also included Vroom & Dreesmann, Praxis and De Bijenkorf) - owned by KKR - but was then sold to the British investment company Lion Capital. In 2018, Ramphastos Investments took over the company. In June of 2020, Hema was unable to pay a debt, as a result of which the company fell into the hands of creditors. At the end of 2020, the 50/50 acquisition by Mississippi Ventures and Parcom was completed. 

Corporate policy
The website says: 'Hema is for everyone. And we believe that you are most beautiful when you can be yourself. Whatever version of yourself that is. Pride is a great asset at Hema, both externally and internally. That means that we don't just hoist the flag and launch great marketing campaigns.' Look, that's a good start!

Hema has been actively promoting certain topics during Pride Week for a number of years now. They do this in collaboration with and in support of the GSAs (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) of the COC. For example, they sponsor part of the Purple Friday packages that schools can request. Incidentally, they also donate to KWF/Pink Ribbon, for example, so their CSR is broader in that respect.

Internally, since 2020, they have had special birth leave for all Hema employees who welcome a child into the family thanks to, for example, a surrogate mother or adoption. They will receive four extra weeks of leave on top of the existing (adoption) leave, which is 6 weeks.

Hema is also part of the network organization Amsterdam Divers & Inclusive and the Hema recruitment team receives training in 'selecting without prejudice' from the College van de Mensenrechten (Human Rights Board).


The beginning: the man in the bra
In 2011, we first saw something to do with the six-colored rainbow in an ad for the push-up bra, which featured mostly OOH. Hema teamed up with 20-year-old Andrej Pejic, an androgynous Bosnian-Australian top model who only came out as a transsexual two years later and became Andreja. So he was still a man during this campaign: in March of that year he took 11th place in models.com's list of Top 50 Male Models.

Elle wrote: 'To prove everyone gets a dazzling cleavage from their latest brassiere, Hema roped in a man to take him to the erm, man. After all, women who give their breasts more oomph with a push-up bra have already done so. This – quite feminine – Andrej Pejic, is internationally seen as quite a – sorry – big man. As you can see, Elle had a hard time placing Andrej, and we now know why. But in the meantime, around Christmas 2011, we saw a man with a bra. Really Hema (their slogan at the time: "Echt HEMA").

Pride 2016: sausages and tompouces
The first real ATL rainbow campaign was in 2016, with the sale of limited edition Pride t-shirts, featuring their two most iconic products: the smoked sausage and the tompouce, positioned in such a way that it was recognizable, naughty and telling. It is very clever if you as a brand have your core products in such a way that you both load your brand and give it a completely different meaning! By the way, I have memed this with my husband, as can be seen here.

The Pride t-shirts were available in three variants:

tompouce ♥ tompouce
smoked sausage ♥ smoked sausage
smoked sausage ♥ tompouce
so - very inclusively - the heterosexual fellow man was also considered.

Pride 2017: Hema ♡
"Hema loves everyone. Without prejudice.' And they conveyed that in a special way during Pride 2017. They sold Hema ♡ shirts of which you did not know in advance what name was on it. You bought a blank package and could only choose the fit and size. The color of the shirt and the ♡ name on it were a surprise. And that name could be anyone's. All with a heart in front of it. Because love is for everyone. With the shirt you could show that you spread love to everyone without

Hema has been paying attention to the LGBT community and employees for years. They do this through relevant, original and striking campaigns - not alone, but in collaboration with 'experts', such as the COC, which also receives annual donations, and the gay designers Viktor&Rolf. They show their best side internally and externally. They also do this in the store, and outside of Pride. The downside is that they started Marketing the Rainbow very late: they had already existed for 90 years, and the real work happened after the turning point in 2015. But they still score a 9- for intention, commitment and execution.

prejudice. The entire profit of every Hema ♡ shirt went to the COC.

I have to note that for me wearing a yellow shirt (not my color) with ♡ Marie (I don't know) is a bit over his/her target, but it can at least lead to a conversation. And that was probably the main goal of the campaign.

Pride 2019: Love is for everyone
After a wedding party follows - a baby shower? Families can be found in different forms. Rainbow families encounter various problems, including in the progressive Netherlands. Hema wanted to draw attention to this during Pride week 2019 and therefore organized the Hema baby shower. The cakes were still too traditional pink and blue, but there was talk of 'Hello Baby' instead of girl (blue?) or boy (pink!).

In addition, in 2019 they also had a unique collaboration with the famous gay fashion designers Viktor&Rolf. The duo designed a t-shirt with the message that love is for everyone in rainbow letters. The limited edition shirts were available in ten Amsterdam Hema stores and online. As in previous years, the entire proceeds from the t-shirts went to the COC.

Christmas 2019
The collaboration with Viktor&Rolf continued for that year's limited edition Jingle Bows Christmas collection. The iconic features of the two parties were combined in one collection.

The famous bow from Viktor&Rolf played the leading role in this and was reflected in many of the designs. It also formed the basis for the reformed Hema logo, which was specially designed for this purpose. Focus points were glitter, red and gold tones and festive & exuberance.

The 'family' shown is at least multi-cultural, but from an LGBT point of view you could also place them as 'Modern Family'.

This article was last updated on Jan 13, 2023

Pride 2020: Hey Pride
In 2020 there was no Pride and no campaign, but Hema founded Hey Pride, a sounding board for diversity and inclusivity.

Please note: this seems to have nothing to do with marketing, but you can only do Marketing the Rainbow credibly and avoid pinkwashing if you have your affairs in order internally! Call it internal marketing, but it is phase 1 of Diversity and Inclusion (where Supplier Diversity is phase 2a and MarCom is phase 2b: see my article 'The three phases of Diversity').

Hey Pride was created to develop, bundle and share expertise with colleagues and external parties. The COC has an important consultative function in this regard. “The valuable thing about this promotion is that it is not just a Pride promotion, but that it sets the tone for what is normal throughout the year. I'm super excited!', says Astrid Oosenbrug, chairman of COC Netherlands.

In an article on Winq, we read about Christel and her daughter Jane. Christel (45) has been working at Hema since she was 16. Daughter Jane (16) has also found her place there. "After Jane told me she's trans, it was like having my child back." Things didn't go so well at Jane's previous employer: when she went to work, Jane went back into the closet and dressed as a man. Christel: 'Because I've been working at Hema for so long, I've been well aware of how the company has become increasingly inclusive over the years. Jane grew up with Hema and already knew that the workforce is very diverse. Truly a reflection of society.' Christel is now a branch manager at a so-called A branch, and when vacancies came up for supplementary help, Jane applied for it.

When Jane joined Hema, she and her mother still ran into a few minor bumps. Christel: ‘For example, on the employee form you could only choose between ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and her old name still had to be entered because her passport had not yet been amended. After contacting HR, things like that were quickly resolved.' When Christel heard that Hema has set up 'Hey Pride', a sounding board for diversity and inclusivity, she really appreciated that. "We are really heard by Hema."

Pride 2021 – Show your colours
In '21 Pride was back again, and we had to show our colors. With this campaign, Hema wanted us to discover which version(s) of ourselves we want to show. There was also the promise to be more diverse in advertising. They permanently adapted the 'beauty' store communication to a more inclusive image as well.

'We believe that you are at your most beautiful when you are given the space to ask, find out and try. You will probably recognize yourself more and more in our image choices, text, and products. This is how we want to inspire you to discover all versions of yourself.'

It is great that attention is not only paid to Marketing the Rainbow around Pride.

Gender neutral
Who doesn't remember the fuss surrounding gender neutral children's clothing in 2017? RTL Nieuws headlined with 'What inspires Hema?' – but the use of the quotes already indicated that this was a quote or summary of the comments on their Facebook page. That post generated no fewer than 4,400 (!) comments and more than 3,300 likes. Well: 1,300 likes, 181 loves, but also 1,000 angry, 214 laughers and 68 people who shed a tear. If a post on that page normally gets to 100, it's already quite a bit, sometimes with emotionalcases the 1,000 is tapped – so the number of responses does reflect the content of the topic.

A recurring emotion was 'You stupid bastard! Please do NOT exaggerate and join in this idiocy!! 😤', 'Will the men's bicycle also be abolished now?' and 'Why is this suddenly being pushed down our throats?' I never quite get that from that throat. If you don't understand or approve of something, go somewhere else. Nothing straw.

RTL itself wondered: "Is the Dutch retail chain far ahead of its time or is this more of a marketing trick to attract more customers?" When asked, Hema said that two years earlier the ball had already started rolling to make the children's department gender neutral. ‘In November 2015, we received a question from Julia, who was then 10. Together with her babysitter, she wrote us a Facebook message in which she asked for more cool girls' clothing,' says Nathalie Kruger of Hema. 'Hema wants to enable children to be who they want to be. From tough girls and sweet boys to real princesses and aspiring astronauts.”

Some kind of gender washing? I think it was primarily a statement, an elaboration of their defined policy. But from a logistical point of view it also provided an advantage. Because is such a white romper really gender-linked? And that t-shirt? And apparently older kids, who can choose for themselves, don't want to be pushed into an m/f or blue/pink box.

But why the outrage? Hema was not the first, and certainly not the last. Toy retailer Bart Smit already adapted the catalog in 2014; no more separate pages for boys and girls. H&M launched a gender-neutral clothing line in 2018 and Zeeman did the same in 2020 – and then even for adults, but you never heard anyone talk about that. And what about the qualification 'unisex'? Although the first use of the term dates back to 1968, it can be argued that "unisex clothing" had its first appearance in the late nineteenth century. And now many retailers offer it. So: old wine, new bottles. 

In the same year, Hema also informed us that they had THE mattress for everyone, no matter how or with whom you sleep. In the video we see two gentlemen casually spooning, and you may know by now that it is precisely that 'casual' that works well for me!

The men's segment in question had also been noticed by others, and attention was also paid to this on the socials - usually positively.

And then there was, for example, the birth congratulations card (think of that word at Wordfeud) that congratulates the new parents with a 'little person'. You can make all sorts of jokes with that, but I think it's an original idea.

2020 - Workplace Pride
In 2020, Hema joined the Workplace Pride network, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving acceptance and equality for LGBT+ employees in the workplace.

This was followed by the signing of the Diversity Charter. With this they promised that they will work 'even harder' to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I honestly think they're already doing a really good job!

Hema is convinced that achieving these objectives contributes to better business results, a nicer working environment, better utilization of the labor market, more satisfied customers, more creativity and innovative solutions that make life better, more fun and easier. A win-win-win. See also my article '4 reasons to put your diversity into practice + two bonus reasons'.

Case study: HEMA

Branche: Retail