We all saw what happened. Major brands shelved their Pride campaigns when the online vitriol got loud enough, leaving their queer collaborators to fend for themselves. Not only did these Pride marketing efforts fail to connect with queer people in a meaningful way, the actions these brands took in backpedaling caused real harm. And the backlash seemed to have a cascading effect of other brands opting out of Pride altogether. Even the aforementioned rainbow logos seemed to disappear. As a queer person and as an executive creative director at an agency, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
But as disappointed as I feel, this is an opportunity for brands to do better -- demonstrably better.
First, let’s dispel some misconceptions that have come up in the back-and-forth surrounding this disastrous 2023 Pride-vertising season.
One, Pride is not going anywhere. Pride is for the community. It’s just not proving to be the be-all, end-all touchpoint for marketing to queer folks that advertisers wanted. And frankly speaking, it never really should have been.
Two, there is no oversaturation of queer representation in media that calls for a “scaling back” of any kind. We’re at a teensy 3% representation figure across national TV ads for the top 10 advertisers, according to GLAAD’s Advertising Visibility Index 2023. That’s less than half of our actual representation in the population (7.2%). And most of that ad visibility came in the form of queer celebrities. Everyday queer people are basically absent from most major marketing.
Three, the perceived backlash to queer representation stems from a very vocal minority. GLAAD’s 2023 Accelerating Acceptance study details that an overwhelming majority of non-LGBTQ Americans support equal rights and freedom from discrimination for queer people. Most think that companies should publicly support the queer community through practices like advertising.
So, what’s the big takeaway?
The rainbow is not enough. Ditch singular flashy Pride campaigns for sustained communication and real multidimensional storytelling -- the kind that becomes endemic to your brand identity, part of how consumers come to see and perceive you.
If you engage with us, engage with us fully. Be prepared for that loud minority to come at you, but don’t embolden the haters by backing down. You might piss off some folks, but you’ll be showing your commitment to queer consumers -- and not just them, but all those consumers who have a queer person in their lives that they love.
Engaging authentically, effectively, and consistently with queer consumers is not only the right thing to do, it’s good business sense. We exist across every single other segment you market to already. Placating a few angry voices impacts your ability to connect with the rest of us -- and we’re not gonna stand for it.
Rainbows are cute. But do better. We need you to.