Procter & Gamble celebrates Pride with branded trikes and staff at the World Pride Parade on June 30, 2019 in New York City.
Bryan Bedder | Getty Images
More than ever, brands are signaling support for the LGBTQ + community in Pride month. But experts say real support has to come from more than a rainbow-colored post on social media.
A number of big brands launched advertising campaigns or marketed Pride-themed clothing and groceries this June. Kind Snacks, for example, has its own line of “Kind Pride” bars, while Skittles turned its packaging and candy gray to draw attention to “the only rainbow that counts”.
But with consumers paying more attention than ever to the brands they buy from, it has to go deeper than rainbow packaging, experts say. Brands are for example be called out for claiming to support the LGBTQ + community even when companies have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past to lawmakers who support anti-trans laws.
While brands could prominently represent the community in Pride month, many still have a long way to go to represent LGBTQ + people in advertising for the remainder of the year. A study by Unilever, released last week, found that 66% of LGBTQ + people between the ages of 18 and 34 believe that people from different backgrounds are shown in ads “just to make the numbers”.
The right approach
As soon as June 1 hit, brands switched social media avatars to rainbow-colored versions, posted solidarity posts, and released a range of Pride-themed products. But Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer at GLAAD, said it was important to go deeper.
“Brands participating in Pride Month have power and it is important for their employees and their consumers to see support for the community during Pride Month. But that can’t just be during Pride Month, ”he said. “Unless a brand has a 365-day, year-round plan for LGBTQ integration, they really need to prioritize it over a one-off Pride campaign.”
He said it is important to create marketing and advertising that engages the community throughout the year as well, and go beyond that effort to take a stand on anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“This is where brands can have immense power – by using their influence in politics and educating their stakeholders, be they employees, consumers or politicians, about anti-LGBTQ laws and pro-LGBTQ laws,” said Ferraro.
He said he would like every brand that participates in Pride promotions this year to also actively push for the equality law and push the Senate to move the law forward.
“Otherwise, the Pride campaigns feel very empty to our community. And it’s a huge missed opportunity,” he said.
Ferraro said Kelloggs Together With Pride muesli is a great example of how a brand can contribute to change. The company donates part of the sales to GLAAD, and the cereal box also has a section that encourages you to write down the pronouns.
“This campaign reaches parents who may not otherwise think about pronouns or who may not see media reporting fairly and accurately on pronouns,” he said. “I think Kellogg’s is helping educate the general public and also sending a pretty strong message to trans youth that a popular brand like Kellogg’s supports and stands by them and accepts them for who they are. ”
Child also says they will donate $ 50,000, plus an additional dollar for each “Pride” text they receive under a specific number, to a nonprofit to help LGBTQ + homeless youth. It also does a rainbow light show near the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
Avoid “rainbow wash”
If a brand chooses to build a campaign around Pride but has taken actions in the past that go against the cause, it may be viewed as superficial and opportunistic by consumers.
For example Popular Info this week highlighted 25 brands with Pride campaigns that collectively donated more than $ 10 million to politicians who pushed anti-gay laws in the past two years.
So when a brand swaps their social media avatar for a rainbow version of themselves or otherwise shows support in June, savvy consumers will know if their ads are showing the community year-round, whether they’re hiring LGBTQ + people and getting them into leadership positions, and whether the brand is actually providing resources and legislative support to the community. And when the brand doesn’t, sentiment plummets.
Katherine Sender, a professor at Cornell University who wrote “Business not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market,” said brands must at least have company policies to ensure management supports a safe and supportive environment for employees. With the company’s clout to make bigger change, companies can really help, she said.
She used the example of companies pulling out of North Carolina because laws against transsexuals prohibit the use of toilets of their gender identity.
“It’s a very powerful move that got a lot of attention in North Carolina and it hurt their wallet where they wouldn’t get corporate money, they wouldn’t get people to watch athletics, they were … no jobs for get their employees because companies wouldn’t build factories and other places that would bring money to the state, “she said. “I think that’s another level of support that goes beyond the company itself and can actually make a more meaningful change.”
Danisha Lomax, senior vice president of paid social at Digitas, said brands are also better off reminding themselves that Pride was protest.
“It started with queer and transgender people not having their rights and being taken seriously, and police brutality,” she said. “I don’t think many brands have actually incorporated this into their broad-based marketing efforts.”
Brands do it right
Tamara Alesi, America’s agency and media sector director for YouGov, said other brands honor Pride in a deeper way. She cited companies like Tinder who worked year-round to build a deeply inclusive workplace culture, while companies like Jägermeister are trying to provide tangible support to communities with campaigns like the Save the Night campaign to support lesbian bars.
Bombas, a seller of socks and other underwear, follows a socially conscious model in all of his sales: for every item sold, he donates one item to the homeless. CMO Kate Huyett said the number of LGBTQ + people is significantly higher in the homeless population than in the general population.
“This year … we’re focusing on black transgender people who are five times more likely to be homeless than the general US population, which is just amazing,” she said. “Since 2019 we have been doing this with specific products and a specific focus on donations.”
The company has a Pride product collection that is available all year round. Huyett said the company donated more than 300,000 pairs of socks through the Ally Coalition.
Then there is The Body Shop, which encourages its consumers to sign a petition in support of the Equality Act and pledges to donate $ 1 per signature to the Equality Federation, an advocacy accelerator in support of LGBTQ organizations.
“We want to lend our platform, of course, but we really focus on trading,” said Hilary Lloyd, vice president of brand and values for The Body Shop North America. “For us, it is often the case that measures are met through policy changes and laws. And policy changes and laws are a super long game.
Year-round inclusivity in advertising
A Study 2020 from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that only 1.8% of the characters in ads at the Cannes Lions Festival were LGBTQ, slightly less than last year. But representation is still an important factor for some consumers when it comes to making purchasing decisions. In a survey by the NPD Group, 21% of respondents said that the equality and inclusion of LGBTQ + people had influenced their purchase decision when buying clothes, shoes or accessories.
“There has been a big change from a time when brands were reluctant to accept LGBTQ people because they feared they would get backlash from anti-LGBTQ voices,” Ferraro said. “Today brands and advertisers are concerned about the LGBTQ community’s response to the authenticity of their campaigns.”
GLAAD recently partnered with Getty Images to provide advertisers with guides on how to use images to better represent the LGBTQ community.
“If you look around at some of the recommended images, they include LGBTQ people of different ages, gender identities, and races to better depict the full diversity and intersectionality of LGBTQ people,” Ferraro said.
Procter & Gamble worked with GLAAD on the Visibility Project, which aims to increase the representation of LGBTQ in advertising. A minority of advertisers and agencies actively recommend involving LGBTQ people in advertising, said Lomax of Digitas. Because of this, it is critical for the marketing industry to think about hiring and promoting people who are part of the community.
“If you hire these people, if you pay them, if you bring them on your teams or … play, because then it is done from the heart and it becomes real,” she said.
With P & G’s own extensive brand portfolio, which includes Tide and Charmin, the company uses its own advertising and marketing to reflect common LGBTQ experiences. For example, research by the company has found that around 60% of people change their hair when they come out of the closet. The data point inspired an advertising campaign for the hair care brand Pantene.
“It’s a fascinating insight, but it is based on a larger human insight that hair is one of the best ways to present yourself in the world,” said Brent Miller, P & G’s senior director, global LGBTQ + equality and inclusion.
But Miller says the ultimate goal is beyond just selling a product. As an example, he cited a letter from a young man who was touched by the 2018 P&G campaign with Gus Kenworthy, an Olympic freestyle skier. In the ads, Kenworthy spoke about his experience as a gay athlete. The campaign also inspired the letter writer to come out.
“At the end of the letter he wrote to Gus, he said, ‘Thank you for saving another soul.’ When you have someone responding this way, you know that the work you are doing goes beyond the product, “Miller said.” You have the ability to connect with people who are not in the world yourself could see. “