Love may have won, but empty words still ring hollow.
Every June, Pride Month kicks off with a set of codes and conventions that companies rely on to signal allyship. It’s the usual drill: rainbows, drag queens, “love is love” slogans, and more rainbows. Pride marketing often amounts to nothing more than platitudes—convenient, market-tested rainbow washing that corporate America has adopted as social responsibility has become more important than ever to the bottom line.
It’s easy to look to coastal cities where thriving gay nightlife and commercial hubs paint Pride as one big party. Gay Pride has always been a political statement; in some of the worst places to be gay in America, such as South Carolina, Alabama, and Kansas, Pride is still a form of protest. In other words, the struggle is far from over.
Companies need to understand that LGBTQ+ customers are aware when Pride is used as a commercial opportunity; Reboot Online, a UK-based marketing agency, found 96% of respondents to a sample survey believed companies need to do more to help LGBTQ+ causes year-round. Impactful marketing means going further than parade floats in San Francisco and instead using those resources to support LGBTQ+ customers, employees and community members who stand to benefit the most.
Marketing campaigns that highlight the LGBTQ+ community are even more important in Middle America and Bible Belt states, where queer people are still disproportionately marginalized. This is where companies can cut through the clutter and send a strong message that will stand out. According to a joint report from INTO and Brand Innovators, up to 70% of LGBTQ+ consumers identified a brand’s LGBTQ-friendly brand reputation as an influence on purchasing decisions.
“LGBTQ-friendly,” however, is as vague as a rainbow-tinted corporate logo. Impactful marketing bucks the “white picket fence” and celebrates the fact that queerness, much like America itself, is not one single lived experience. For companies that claim to support Pride, addressing this geographic divide queer people face is not only a social responsibility but a legitimate opportunity to use marketing as a tool to build stronger customer relationships. It should be viewed as a year-round commitment to advocacy, a far cry from the 87% of brands that do not include LGBTQ+ people in year-round media planning.
The best way to uplift is by normalizing; social marketing that raises awareness has been the core strategy for companies trying to indicate allyship, but it can be made less effective by the use of stereotypes. For segments of the population that face discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression, “slice of life” storytelling stands as a reminder that LGBTQ+ people have the same wants, needs and dreams as anyone else. Gillette’s 2019 ad featuring a father teaching his transgender son how to shave and the Tiffany & Co “Will You?” campaign with a real-life gay couple both succeed in affirming support by being authentic with everyday experiences.
Community outreach in practice makes for the “impactful” part of impactful marketing. Reboot’s research found that out of 122 large companies with Pride campaigns like H&M and Walmart, only 64% of them actually made a LGBTQ+ charitable donation. Donating to regional LGBTQ+ organizations and partnering with local nonprofits makes even more of an impact in states that, unlike California and New York, do not have legislation to protect LGBTQ+ residents. Marketers have a responsibility to do their due diligence when planning beneficial partnerships—searching for the organizations that need the most public and financial support for the work they do in non-metropolitan areas.
Pride marketing only works if companies are intentional about the choices they make. State geography can define life experiences for LGBTQ+ people in America, and so rather than jumping on a rainbow-colored bandwagon, marketers looking to make a genuine impact should plan on being authentic in their storytelling and actionable in their outreach.
Omar Taleb is a Toronto-based writer, marketer and content creator fascinated by the future of news media and the intersection of pop culture and politics. On any given day, you can find him bouncing around between HBO, Netflix and Amazon Prime, or on Instagram @omar.taleb5.