Baby, You Were Branded This Way
LGBTQ rights have made leaps and bounds, particularly in just the last ten years alone. Ultimately, this is as a result of the general mindset evolving towards a more accepting attitude which then eventually becomes most prevalent in policy (ie. in 2015 when the United States Supreme court struck down all state bans on same sex marriage.)
Undeniably one of the biggest contributing factors to an increased acceptance of queer culture in the mainstream is brands and the way they have embraced both the LGBTQ culture in general as well as PRIDE month specifically. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded examines four brands that invest in LGBTQ pride month both for profit and PR initiative and the ways that they have given back to the LGBTQ community.
A Brief History of Pride Month
Any blog discussing the cultural relevance of Pride as it pertains to branding would be remiss were it not to cover the historical significance of Pride month. Yes, June does happen to be an amazing time of the year to hold a parade, but that is not by a long shot the reason it has become the month of Pride.
On June 28, 1969, a police riot took place in the Stonewall Inn of the Greenwich Village Neighborhood in New York City. The raid targeted LGBTQ patrons of the inn simply for being who they are and members of the community decided they had had enough. Gay, lesbian and transgender people took to the streets of New York and protested in what became one of the most monumental moments of public protest in LGBTQ History. It was so effective because the protest lasted for days and led to activist groups forming to continue fighting for equality. Notably one of the most important figures that led in the organization of these riots was gay liberation activist and drag queen, Marsha P. Johnson.
Any brand interested in investing in the beauty of pride month should take note of the fact that the roots of pride month were not as celebratory as they are today and that people of color played a pivotal role in organizing perhaps the most successful demonstration of equality for the queer community in American history. When brands incorporate pride month into their image without a proper understanding of what this means to to the community, you can be sure they will hear about it on social media.
In fact, every year more articles and pieces are written on the corporatization of pride, which does not mean that you shouldn't embrace pride in your branding but rather that if you do, it's important to know your history and what your brand is weaving into its branding. Cause marketing is one of the most effective ways to appeals to both millenials and Gen Z, and brands that have done their homework will truly see the impact it can make in aligning with LGBTQ equality in a way that feels sincere.
This year in celebration of Pride month, Bud Light will be incorporating a rainbow into the branding of its bottles in addition to donating $1 for every case sold to GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.) With a long standing relationship, Budweiser has been partnered with GLAAD for two decades now.
These limited edition bottles will be available through June 30th. Budweiser's vice president of marketing, Andy Goeler told CNN, "With the release of these new bottles, we hope to create something that everyone can feel proud to hold during Pride month."
Budweiser's partnership with GLAAD is simple but effective and certainly would have been thoughtful enough for most consumers who are passionate about LGBTQ progress. What followed in their UK division was beyond unexpected. On May 31st, the Budweiser UK account tweeted the following...
Excited to reveal we are now proud sponsors of Pride in London! We are working closely with them and our charity partners to celebrate the diversity within the LGBT+ community and Fly the Flag for everyone at the
A taste of what's to come...
The conversation about Pride flags is a complex one even within the LGBTQ community. Many members of the community would argue that the classic rainbow flag sufficiently represents everyone on the sexual spectrum as it represents all colors. There is, however, the complicated and unavoidable history of racism and transphobia within the community. As our understanding of the spectrum of human sexuality continues to grow, so too do different ways to represent how you identify. Thus we have several flags.
And in the tweets that followed, the brand posted more images explaining the meaning and significance...
What is really unique about this choice was the brand's move to use its platform as a source of education and also to start a conversation. Conservative consumers did not respond well to this and you can probably imagine the range of negative reactions it received. Budweiser did not respond to any of the negative tweets it received in this campaign and maintains consistent with its efforts.
In fact on the website, budpride.co.uk - the company shares
"To make sure this impact lasts beyond Pride we’ve partnered with 9 charities that support the whole LGBT+ community. Find out about the work they do, or how you they could support you:
The Asexuality Visibility & Education Network
Bi Pride UK
Black Out UK
Stonewall Diversity Champion
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline"
The argument that this is simply a PR initiative of pandering has come up several times, but quite frankly I think that's beside the point. At the end of the day, the brand is using their platform to spread awareness (and not just of broadly and safely saying all LGBTQ people but giving support to each individual category of identification within the spectrum) and supporting organizations that specifically benefit the most marginalized members of the community. Skeptics can balk all they like but this is one of the most fascinating and well researched social campaigns to date.
The store Target has an interesting relationship with the LGBTQ community that has truly grown over the last decade. In 2010, Target took a lot of heat for donating $150K to Minnesota politician Tom Emmer, known for being a vocal opponent of marriage equality. Originating from Minnesota, the store defended their decision, claiming that the endorsement was in supportive of his economic policy and not his stance on social issues. Many felt that this was not a satisfactory response, as the brand may not have intended to support anti-LGBTQ policy-making, they inadvertently had by sponsoring Emmer anyway.
The store definitely took note and two years later, launched their first ad campaign targeted at LGBTQ couples. One might think this ad was simply an attempt to save face after receiving bad PR for donating to Emmer but the brand has only continued to double down on supporting LGBTQ causes since then.
Making a commentary on gender politics, in 2015 Target made the decision to stop using gender-specific toy aisles. While this choice may not seem like a very pointed gesture, it actually caused a real stir and the first of many outcries to boycott the store.
The following year, as a debate arose about which bathrooms transgender people should use in public spaces, Target came forward in support of the transgender community with a policy that all staff and customers should use the bathroom that they felt most comfortable with in accordance of the gender with which they identify. This caused a real sir once again and outraged many who found the move inappropriate.
What's most interesting about Target's choice to consistently align with LGBTQ causes is the fact that the brand knowingly made choices that they knew would upset large parts of their targeted audience. When we look at ad campaigns like Nike's recent partnership with Colin Kaepernick, the choice definitely became controversial but the message actually resonated perfectly with Nike's biggest core demographic - young and urban markets of millenials and Gen Z who are passionate about social causes. While this is not their only audience, it is their biggest one and they are clearly not afraid to alienate more conservative demographics.
In contrast to Nike's partnership, Target stood a lot more to lose in making the decision to speak out on such issues. Marketing itself as a family store, it's primary audience is, well - families. A lot of middle America family demographics did react with extreme negativity over not just in social media, but actual calls for boycott and protests as seen below.
Target continued to be an open advocate for LGBTQ Pride as it announced its first line of clothing and products, "Take Pride" in 2017. In the past year and continuing this year, the line has only continued to grow.
This year the line includes a total of 80 products, including tee shirts, tank tops, swim wear, unique items like gender neutral skirts, hoodies, pins, buttons and more! Additionally, Target will be donating $100,000 to the charity Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that aims to help prevent bullying particularly against LGBTQ students.
Clearly Target has found great success investing in Pride as regardless for what flack they receive from critics, their collection only grows as well as their PR, branding and advertising become more inclusive.
Converse, the classic shoe brand (and subsidiary of Nike) launched a new line of Pride shoes this year with a variety of different styles and options. One of the shoes is (featured in the top left corner of the image below) is the first of their pride lines that is inspired by the Transgender flag.
The brand has also released several tee shirts for their pride collection, one of which is also inspired by the transgender flag.
Additionally, on their website, Converse announced that the brand will be making contributions to the It Gets Better Project and OUT Metrowest (a Boston-based organization for LGBTQ youth.)
Last year, Converse released a pride line partnering with celebrity Miley Cyrus, who identified as gender fluid and pansexual. Cyrus was quoted saying, “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.” As a young celebrity with high reach (albeit with a controversial history) and open views toward sexuality, she was a natural choice for the brand to partner with in a celebrity endorsement.
It's worth reiterating that we're seeing a consistent trend in brands diving beyond the general branding of "pride" with rainbows to specifically focusing on individual aspects of the LGBTQ community. Converse has been releasing pride themed shoes for several years now, and given that Nike (who is not shy toward controversial marketing tactics) is their parent company, their progressive view towards pride branding is not surprising at all.
The denim jeans brand, Levi's is known for having a history of support for the LGBTQ community. In fact, earlier this year the company received a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for the sixteenth year in a row!
Levi's was also the first Fortune 500 company to extend health benefits to unmarried domestic partners more than 20 years ago, and the only California business in 2007 to file an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage.
In their latest collection for this year's Pride, Levi's is donating 100% of net proceeds from our Pride Collection go to OutRight Action International, working to advance human rights for LGBTQ+ people all over the world.
Levi's also boasts on their blog that in February, they gave a $25,000 grant to support the HRC Foundation Youth Ambassador Program which helps amplify the voices of teens and young adults, providing them with the leadership skills to engage in advocacy on the most pressing concerns LGBTQ youth face.
As the president of the HRC pointed out, “Time and again, leading American businesses have shown that protecting their employees and customers from discrimination isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also good for business.” Ultimately, this is a big takeaway that other brands should take note from - the way a brand treats its people speaks not just to PR and sales initiatives but company culture. Having a strong company culture yields better results across the board and absolutely in sales.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
As each year passes, branding your company with pride becomes less taboo and more increasingly seen as a movement on which to capitalize. While many brands have stuck to their guns against this trend for social and political reasons, it becomes more clear that those that do have seen a major return both in how their image as well as their profits. If you want to invest and in a pride branding initiative properly, we definitely recommend working with an agency that understands the needs and values of the demographics that care about LGBTQ causes.
Want to check out some similar marketing choices that helped brands resonate better with their key demo? Check out these other blog posts we've written...
- Amplify Your Brand Through Cause Marketing
- 3 Case Studies Of How Brands Affect Social Change
- Case Study: The Strategic Use of Controversial Celebrity Endorsement
- Cause Related Marketing Campaigns Getting The Celebrity Treatment
- How Red Nose Day Uses Power Of Celebrity Endorsements For A Good Cause
Want to know what music will be most effective to use in your branding? The answer will always vary based on who you're trying to reach of course. Check out this video we've made on marketing with music!