Pride Problems: Brands Face A Rainbow Rebellion

While this year’s Pride month will celebrate many things, especially how far the LGBQT community has come in the 50 years since New York City’s Stonewall Riots, it’s a high-risk time for brands. 

For years, companies have gotten away with cheerfully tossing around a few rainbows. But Trump-era setbacks have tempered the movement’s boundless optimism, and the changing LGBQT community is on high alert for hypocrisy. 

Want a sense of the new expectations? “I will hate every brand that tries to profit off #pride,” tweeted one activist recently. “I will also hate every brand that ignores #pride. This is gay in 2019.”

Marketing Daily asked Ryan McConnell, senior vice president at Kantar’s consulting division, to explain what brands need to do to win this $884 billion consumer market.



Q: Many people expected to see some exciting new ideas in corporate and brand sponsorship during this year’s Pride celebrations, because of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.

A: Yes! We are at a point in time when support for the LGBQT community is boring. It’s just expected. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that it was still considered unsafe and risky for brands.

But there is a growing backlash.  The community is at the point where they expect more than rainbow flags in a brand’s social media posts. There is a real rising sentiment against this rainbow capitalism, so brands that aren’t donating -- and donating meaningful amounts -- are building resentment. Something like AT&T’s $1 million donation to the Trevor Project, aimed at promoting mental health among teens, gets the [community's] attention.

Q. So donating smaller amounts, like a little bit of the proceeds from the sale of each rainbow T-shirt, for example, doesn’t?

A: No. Increasingly, LGBQT people want to do business with brands that walk the walk. Companies that are espousing diversity, but have boards made up of older white men, for example, don’t impress them.

They want to know companies are helping people live a more comfortable, and accepted, life, like Starbucks’ comprehensive healthcare for transgender employees, for example. They don’t just want brands to acknowledge them.

It’s easy to be an acquaintance. They want brands to be allies.

They are feeling more threatened. After several years of feeling like there was just progress and more progress, there’s a sense that those gains might be taken away.

Q: Is that change due to politics?

AL Yes. But it is also due to the generation we call centennials, sometimes called Gen Z. These are people who grew up after the first iteration of “Will & Grace,” and after Ellen [DeGeneres] came out. They are much more open. Among baby boomers, 75% say they believe there are two genders, while only 61% of centennials do. For them, it’s not about sexuality but a multifaceted identity. That fluidity is the future.

Q: What else is changing?

A: The third thing is about being consistent, about having a presence throughout the year. Centennials, and of course millennials, are so supportive of LGBQT rights that it won’t work to just talk about it once a year. There's a new aspirational mindset about making sacrifices for the good of others. It’s a sort of anti-capitalist spirit, an ethos among younger consumers that show you aren’t just doing something for a profit.

Q: Which brands do you think are getting it right?

A: I mentioned AT&T’s donation to the Trevor Project, but that’s about more than money. [The company has] donated employee time and equipment to make text and chat services available 24 hours a day. That’s a demonstrated commitment to move the community forward.

And some brands are doing a really good job of genuine inclusivity in their marketing. The new Harry’s “Shave or Don’t Shave” features a trans man. And Enfamil’s “The Most Important Person in the World” shows that inclusion doesn’t have to just be a buzzword.

Ikea is selling a rainbow version of its big blue bag. If that was all it was doing, that might generate pushback. But because Ikea is a brand that has been so supportive in the past, it has a ton of credibility.

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