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Brands need more than rainbow-colored products if they want to celebrate Pride in 2022

Once-a-year marketing stunts are fine, but today’s consumers are demanding that LGBTQ+ solidarity is backed up with action and support.

Brands need more than rainbow-colored products if they want to celebrate Pride in 2022
[Source Images: Getty]

Last year, Bud Light ran outdoor ads during Pride month featuring a rainbow-colored beer bottle and the letters LGBTQ to stand for “Let’s Grab Beers Tonight, Queens.” It didn’t exactly go over well with all of its intended audience. As Erica Lenti described it in Toronto-based LGBTQ mag Xtra, “There’s something so poignant about having your identities erased in favour of selling beer . . . in an ad intended to celebrate your identities.”

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It’s become an annual tradition every June, watching brands scramble to celebrate such cultural moments as Pride and Juneteenth in a way that doesn’t feel like disingenuous exploitation or pandering. In that regard, Bud Light’s cheesy acronym was a minor offense. Pfizer celebrated LGBTQ members of its employee community with a video and hashtag #PfizerProud, at the same time that the company had donated almost $1 million to 52 anti-gay politicians in 2018. Popular Information‘s Judd Legum highlighted the same point about AT&T this year.

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In the year 2022, a rainbow isn’t going to cut it. This is a year where there are up to 280 anti-trans proposals hitting state legislatures, according to Human Rights Campaign. Brands can no longer rely on performative acts of recognition on specific days or months to buff their progressive or diversity bona fides, especially when it comes to young people. According to AI-powered data platform Influential, just 14% of Gen Z looked favorably on rainbow flag campaigns, compared to 42% of baby boomers.

Ryan Detwiler, principal of client services at global consultancy Prophet, says that before taking part in Pride, brands need to actively support LGBTQ+ causes July through May, and despite the positive results of elevating awareness of an issue by their media reach, brands also need to demonstrate that they are authentically engaged on that issue.

“Making sure your brand’s purpose is reflective of LGBTQ+ values—such as, having LGBTQ+ members in leadership positions to featuring LGBTQ+ representation in company market outreach like advertising and social media year round—will put substance behind the Pride initiative,” says Detwiler.

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Two brands with very different approaches this year are Ben & Jerry’s and Burger King. The former has tied its marking of Pride with a call to raise awareness and support to fight anti-trans legislation across many different states. While the latter, as part of a new promotion in Austria, remixed the Proud Whopper by just using two top buns or two bottom buns on the burger. Which one appears more in touch with the culture of the issues facing this community?

Brands like Macy’s and Kate Spade have added credibility to their Pride efforts by partnering with The Trevor Project, a crisis-support organization for LGBTQ youth, doing meaningful, year-round work in that community. As Latarria Coy, head of ethical media at Influential, told Adweek, “Consumers across all generations would rather align themselves with brands that are making monetary contributions to organizations that will benefit the LGBTQ+ community and not just rainbow flag campaigns.”

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For older consumers brought up under extreme discrimination, corporate and brand recognition might have felt like progress. But there is a generation of people who have seen Pride celebrated every year of their life, and for them recognition isn’t enough. They want action. Ryan Ford, president and chief creative officer at Cashmere Agency, says that might be the biggest shift in the last few years, and brands need to be prepared.

“Brands are getting pressure-tested at every step because people have had enough,” says Ford. “The tone and tenor in culture went from, ‘We just want to be heard,’ to ‘You better figure this out, or we’re coming after you.’ Demanding change and forcing change is a tone of the younger consumers right now.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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