This post was co-written with Devon DeSanna, copywriter at OBERLAND
We just closed out June: a really exciting month for the LGBTQ community — it’s a marker of the fight for gay rights and equality that began with the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and has turned into a celebration of the achievements we have made and a call to action about the changes, policies and work toward acceptance that so many people around the world, and here at home, still need.
PRIDE has played a major role in the way that brands market and communicate to their audiences. Across industries and categories, LGBTQ love and the families they create are being embraced like never before: dads serving Cheerios to their daughter as part of a morning routine, moms who commit to learn sign language before they adopt their daughter, Tiffany’s decision to include a gay couple in a round of engagement-focused ads, and so many more. It’s no surprise that this is happening: families are more diverse and advertising is meant to hold up a mirror and reflect the change. Companies are aware of the important role that LGBTQ people play in society. Often, for companies that do it well, these advertisements come with a number of internal policies and activations that signal real commitment to the community, including:
- Investments in employee resource groups and individual efforts to lead their industry on fair HR policies for all people
- Advocacy against impending legislation and other public policy that could impact their constituencies. We saw this a lot of this in the wake of proposed “religious freedom restoration acts” and the “bathroom bans” that swept parts of the country
- Efforts to leverage the voice of the CEO to tell LGBTQ people that they matter and that the company supports them. Tim Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have both done this well
However, the tone in June can sometimes feel a little forced — a little decorated, per se — with some brands trying to latch on to a cultural conversation without making a lot of effort. From a rainbow Oreo to a rainbow bottle of vodka to a rainbow Whopper, it starts to feel like brands are merely adding a rainbow flag to their product to force a new sale, not necessarily to form a meaningful connection. Many brands are a bit guilty of “Rainbow Washing”: aligning their marketing with a cause when it’s cute and convenient and might get some shares on social.
While we celebrate that companies have realized the experiences of LGBTQ communities and the importance of PRIDE, we think there is much more they can do. Over the next few years, we hope brands begin to take on the cause more holistically and use their voice and reach to address some of the major crises affecting the community. Here’s where we think they can lead.
- Be Bold: make a major commitment to solve a real societal problem. For example, anywhere between 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth in America identity as LGBTQ. This is serious and concerning to think that a generation of young people have no support. Brands that have an authentic connection to the space, either through the products they provide or the people who helm the company, can work to chip away at this number year over year. Bold efforts like a signature program that directly tackles one of the most important issues can allow brands to show that they actually do care and earn respect along the way.
- Be MORE Inclusive: don’t just resort to images from PRIDE parades or use cisgender people in materials. There has been a lot of work to get us to more acceptance for the LGBTQ community — however that is not widespread and many people are still harmed and threatened every day across the country. It’s up to us to ensure that what we create includes every member of the community in an authentic, visibility-raising way.
- Be Willing to Partner: don’t go at it alone without subject matter expertise. Though it might feel like we’re moving away from the days of traditional corporate social responsibility, brands need to remember that while they should think like non-profits, they aren’t actually non-profits. Consider upping support for LGBTQ community outside of the advertising. Inviting in experts and ensuring that organizations who work in this space have monetary support they need is one of the most effective ways to authentically deliver your message.
Creating successful campaigns requires the right tone and the right players.
We’ve got a lot to do; so, let’s get to work!