Marketing Briefing: As Pride approaches, marketers should be ‘truly invested’ as marketing backlash continues

The month of June — and Pride marketing dollars to mark the occasion — will soon flow. For marketers in recent years, that’s often meant rolling out various Pride campaigns with LGBTQIA+ influencers and creating Pride merch. This year, however, Pride arrives amid a more fraught and politicized marketing environment as the backlash to advertising deemed “woke” continues.

As we covered in last week’s Marketing Briefing, brands like Bud Light, Miller Lite and Adidas, among others, have faced backlash and boycott threats for releasing marketing efforts that aimed to be more inclusive or any effort that could be deemed “woke.” The heightened politicization of inclusive marketing efforts may lead to more caution among risk averse marketers.

The fraught and politicized marketing environment has already seen one brand, Target, pull its Pride merch — which ranged from celebratory clothing to a bird dressed as a drag queen — from its floors as the company’s employees have faced threats while at work, per the company’s statement. Target also noted that it is “moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Marketers and agency execs say that this current political moment will likely separate the brands that are truly committed to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community from those that had made Pride an annual marketing spend. And clearer to distinguish the brands that were rainbow washing.

“With Pride Month around the corner, the LGBTQ+ community will certainly be looking more closely at brands that are activating in June AND all year ‘round, asking the question ‘are you here for a money grab or are you really down for the cause and the community?,’” said Pilaar Terry, managing partner and COO, POV Agency. “Marketers that are truly invested will be counted on to really show up, and not just during Pride Month. It’s an invitation to double down and not just be performative.”

Marketers are currently making decisions out of fear and threats of violence in an increasingly fraught environment, explained Carlos Santiago, co-chair of the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM). Bending to those threats sets a bad precedent that could lead to more pushback for other inclusive marketing efforts. “If we let ourselves respond and run to the corner every time [there’s pushback because] ‘this is a woke brand,’ then where does it stop?” asked Santiago.

Earlier this month ANA AIMM put out a letter in USA Today noting the importance of inclusivity and warding marketers off from being selectively inclusive. Santiago also noted that marketers already spend just a fraction of their ad budgets to support the LGBTQIA+ community; per AIMM’s 2022 study on diverse-owned ad spend, “only 0.2% of all consumer ad dollars are invested by brands in LGBTQ-owned and targeted media publications.”

Marketers and agency execs said they believe brands will still show up this year for Pride, but those that do so need to truly support the LGBTQIA+ community and be ready for potential backlash.

“Regardless of who your consumer is as a brand the worst thing you can do in brand marketing is flip flop,” said Emma McIlroy, founder and CEO of Wildfang, a queer retail brand that plans to host 48 hours of a continuous drag show in July in Portland to fundraise for the Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention efforts for the LGBTQIA+ community. “When you decide you’re for one thing and then flip, who are you? What are you? You’re just a commodity.”

Given the current environment, marketers participating in Pride this year will “need to mean it,” said Hannah Fishman, CCO for The&Partnership in North America.

“The word Pride is very important,” said Lisette Arsuaga, co-chair of the ANA’s AIMM. “When it comes to Pride, I think companies that support the LGBTQ community have to be proud to support the LGBTQ community. When difficult times come through, they have to be proud to stand firm.”

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