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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.
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 truly invested in such initiatives in a meaningful way will truly see the impact it can make in aligning with LGBTQ equality as both a demonstartion of company culture and sales initiative.
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. Though there is the complicated and unavoidable history of racism and transphobia within the LGBTQ community. As our understanding of the spectrum of human sexuality continues to grow, the ways in which people identify continue to shift as well. Thus we have several newer 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 has come up several times. While such a claim may be true, it doesn't lessen the impact such campaigns have on perception of queer issues. Ultimately, the brand is using their platform to support the LGBTQ community and not just of broadly and safely saying all queer people, but specifically acknowledging individual categories of identification within the gender and sexuality spectrum. Skeptics can balk all they like but this campaign is one of the most fascinating and inclusive Pride campaigns yet.
Target has an interesting relationship with the LGBTQ community that has truly grown over the last decade. In 2010, Target faced harsh criticism for donating $150K to Minnesota politician Tom Emmer, known for being a vocal opponent of marriage equality. Target defended their decision, claiming that the endorsement was in supportive of his economic policy and not his stance on social issues. Though the brand may not have intended to support anti-LGBTQ policy, this is the risk you take when aligning with any political candidate or party. Many felt that this was not a satisfactory response.
The store 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 press for donating to Emmer but this was only the beginning for the brand's continued support for progressive views toward queer and gender-based politics.
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 resulted in the first of many outcries to boycott the store due to its political commentary.
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 stir once again and outraged many who found the move inappropriate and unnecessary.
Interestingly, Target is very conscious of how much of their consumer base feels alienated by these decisions, and yet they appear completely set on maintaining this part of their corporate culture. When we look at ad campaigns like Nike's recent partnership with Colin Kaepernick, the campaign was deliberately controversial, but the message actually resonated perfectly with Nike's biggest core demographic - young, urban millennial and Gen Z demographics 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 other key demographics.
In contrast to Nike's partnership, Target stood to lose a lot more in making the decision to speak out on such issues. Marketing itself as a family store, it's primary audience is middle America families, which tend to have a conservative leaning. Unsurprisingly, such demographics reacted with extreme negativity and not just via 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, regardless of how their critics react, their licensed Pride line 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 designs 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 identifies 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 and progressive views on gender and 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 rainbow products 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 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 true company culture. Having a strong company culture yields results across the board and has an impact on morale and performance.
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 in a pride initiative properly, we recommend working with an agency that understands the needs and values of the demographics that care about such LGBTQ causes.
Want to learn more about implementing social causes into marketing initiatives? Check out these other blog posts we've written on case studies of brands that took a chance and resonated more strongly with their key demographics as a result.
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. Check out this video we've made on marketing with music!
Topics: Strategic Partnerships, Public Relations, Creative Content