In the wake of Pride Month, brands are asking themselves how to strike a balance between supporting inclusivity, while avoiding the ire of right-wing groups and being pulled into the current war on woke. For some brands, such as the North Face and PetSmart, that means doubling down on marketing campaigns designed to promote equality and showing support for marginalized communities. For others, like Target and the US Navy, it means pulling product or quietly dropping pride content from your social media platforms when faced with backlash.
Brands that do adopt the Pride logo or launch special lines of Pride merchandise this June face potential online hate speech and calls for boycotts from right-wing groups on the one side and the risk of being called out for Rainbow Capitalism or Pride Washing on the other.
So, how should a brand mark the month of June? By asking the right questions:
How are you as a brand promoting and practicing inclusivity and equality 12 months a year? Members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are interacting with your brand 365 days a year as customers and employees. Create a plan to illustrate how you are changing the world for the better over the long term, not a one-month profit.
Have you taken a good hard look in the mirror to ascertain how authentically your organization is delivering on inclusivity? Is everything -- from employee benefits to your investments in the community, to your corporate social responsibility programming -- supporting a greater sense of equality? If the answer is “somewhat,” get your own house in order by doing the hard work of making meaningful changes that directly impact your stakeholders.
How is your brand making a difference? Creating a limited-edition bottle, changing your logo to a rainbow or rolling out a special line of Pride merchandise may be fun and an easy way to show to support, but is this making a difference for members of the LGBTQ+ community? Brands need to walk the walk, whether it’s donating to the Trevor Project, giving employees time off to volunteer with organizations such as the Human Rights Foundation, or hosting a queer speaker series that educates your stakeholders.
Finally, ask yourself: What don’t we know? It’s clear the marketing team at Anheuser-Busch InBev gravely overlooked the potential backlash the brand would face and was ill-prepared to respond. Take the time to understand the complexity of the issues, the sentiment among your stakeholder groups and the potential impact of your action or inaction. Tap into your employee resource groups, seek the guidance of organizations such as GLAAD, and have the difficult conversations internally to determine what you want your brand to stand for, the lengths you’re willing to go, and how strongly you’re prepared to face down detractors.
According to a recent Gallup survey, over 7% of the U.S. and nearly 20% of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+. Add to that the number of people who have a LGBTQ+ child, parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend, and you have a significant number of people who are touched by and care about issues facing this community. But unfortunately, in the divisive climate in which we currently operate, supporting marginalized groups is fraught with risk and carries great potential for missteps. It is critical that organizations do the hard work of looking internally so they can authentically and meaningfully stand up for inclusivity.