It’s officially Pride Month. And this year, June 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the Greenwich Village Stonewall riots, which determinedly gave rise to the gay liberation movement and the first-ever Gay Pride marches in U.S. history that followed a year later. Sure, much progress has been made since then, and what were once Pride marches are now Pride parades. But the fight for LGBTQ+ equal rights is so very far from over. And this is where it gets complicated for brands looking to align their marketing efforts to Pride Month—is there a line where a brand’s support for the LGBTQ+ community crosses into pandering?
Last August, Hornet and Kantar published a study that revealed the LGBTQ+ market has expanded to a total buying power of more than $1 trillion. It’s the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. right now, with an estimated 13% of Americans identifying as LGBTQ+. The explosive growth in this population is being driven by younger generations, with 20% of millennials and a staggering 31% of centennials comprising the community. And it just so happens that these are the generations that care the most about purpose-led brands and can easily sniff out those who are only in it to profit.
So what’s a brand to do? Here are four things to consider before you hit submit on your well-intentioned “Happy Pride” Tweet.
Put skin in the game The fact that more and more brands are marketing rainbow-themed swag during pride month is, arguably, a show of support, right? Sure, you’re helping to spread a message of inclusion, but without any real skin in the game it can come across as a superficial attempt to jump on the pride bandwagon. Prominently showcasing a “love is love” t-shirt in your storefront or on your .com doesn’t, by itself, make your brand an ally. At a bare minimum, donate 100% of the proceeds from your pride products to an LGBTQ+ cause that helps to advance the community. For inspiration, look no further than the popular shaving brand Harry’s, which is donating all profits from its Shave With Pride kit to the Trevor Project. As Will Lanier, executive director of The OUT Foundation says, “It’s important for brands to connect their sales with a nonprofit, especially in the queer space, because a lot of the LGBTQ+ community sees the rainbow stuff as exploitation if it’s not going to a larger purpose.”
Have a point of view Associating with Pride via generic messaging and flag icons says nothing about what your brand actually stands for in its support for the LGBTQ+ community. The thing about this cause is that it isn’t just a single issue. Instead, it’s comprised of a lot of interconnected causes, including youth suicide prevention, transgender rights, access to healthcare, HIV treatment for the poor, and conversion therapy, to name a few. So, what’s your brand’s specific point-of-view and how does it align to your corporate values? Leading into this year’s pride month, for example, Lyft launched its #TwoIsTooFew campaign to shine a light on non-binary, genderqueer and genderfluid identities. As part of this program, the company updated its app to include a range of pronouns to demonstrate inclusivity for all of its riders.
Walk your talk There’s a big difference between posting words of support versus actually doing something to support. Donating money to LGBTQ+ partner causes only begins to move your brand out of “slacktivist” territory. Being an inclusive brand means demonstrating your inclusivity across your customer and employee experiences. This starts with hiring and championing LGBTQ+ talent in the workplace, supporting queer-owned businesses, boycotting institutions and countries that persecute LGBTQ+ people and having gender-neutral bathrooms in your stores and/or offices. Ultimately, consumers are asking themselves, “Does your brand truly mean what it’s saying?” A year ago, Starbucks began offering comprehensive healthcare for all transgender employees by covering historically elective procedures that are life-saving to trans and gender-nonconforming people. So as Starbucks celebrates pride this year, it’s doing it credibly with the LGBTQ+ community because of this activism.
Demonstrate year-round pride It’s nice that your brand makes a gesture of support for the queer community every June, but what happens when it’s not pride month and the “marketing opportunity” isn’t top-of-mind? Challenge your brand to ensure the growing LGBTQ+ population is proportionally represented across your advertising executions, year-round. Better yet, make sure that talent from the community are the people behind those marketing efforts, be it strategy, media and/or creative. Inclusivity, in part, means that audiences see themselves when engaging with your brand. And with a $1 trillion buying power, queer inclusion can’t simply be regulated to a one-off campaign—it’s got to be part of the brand’s DNA. Twenty-five years ago, IKEA was the first brand to feature a gay couple in its broadcast advertising and since then the brand’s “always on” efforts to advance LGBTQ+ equality have been heavily recognized. In fact, for the fourth year in a row, IKEA has earned a 100% score on HRC’s annual LGBTQ Workplace Equality scorecard.
All of this boils down to the degree of authenticity of your brand’s actions by staying consistent with its values. While you may increasingly see big dollar signs on a historically underrepresented community, as long as your LGBTQ+ Pride marketing efforts are coming, first and foremost, from a genuine place of inclusivity, then your brand will be welcomed with open arms … and open wallets.