When I was raising my kids in the 1990s, there weren’t many Pride flags waving and there weren’t many brands celebrating our community. Sure the businesses and brands that sold vacations, alcohol, and HIV medications were loud and proud, but that was about it. Not much else and certainly nothing showcasing parenting.
Of course, as Pride weekend approached in New York City every year back in the day, many businesses in the more gay-populated areas would put up the flag for a few days. But that was about it — and again, certainly nothing showcasing parenting.
At the time I was running my own advertising and promotion agency, and we actually convinced the brand Tylenol to support “Gay Pride” which is what we called it back then. Tylenol was the first consumer packaged goods brand to support the community, with advertising and a presence at the parade. We were so proud of the accomplishment but honestly it was just a drop in the pan in terms of having any impact. That was about it.
So I am sure you can imagine my delight all these years later to see so many brands embracing Pride and I am sure you can imagine my delight to see it expand beyond just “Gay Pride” to the entire spectrum of our community and those who support us. Pride has gotten huge and very broadly supported. And now parenting is often included because, yes, we do have families of our own now too!
It’s gotten so big that many are now shouting “Rainbow Washing” when viewing all of the brands and corporations that add the flag to their logo, create custom products, promote to the community, and show up for Pride. For me, I’m delighted for the support across the board. From where I am coming from, it feels good to be supported in any manner! But I also understand the need for meaning behind the support.
Brands shouldn’t just be waving a flag if they don’t mean it — meaning there needs to be real authentic support for improving our lives while also trying to sell products and services: purpose and profit, so to speak.
So where do brands begin to find and define that meaning for their own support of Pride?
Start with your employees. When you look to your employee base and allow them to create and produce programs for the community then you automatically have authenticity. And if you showcase the diversity of your employee base, then it will not only motivate your teams to contribute more, but it’ll entice others to join as well. IBM was a pioneer on this front, supporting its diverse employee base and showcasing its “gay and lesbian” population (as we called it back then). Today, we see Johnson & Johnson master this art, featuring the entire spectrum of their LGBTQ+ employees and the contributions they make. So as a result, when you see J&J out there supporting all of us, you know it’s actually coming from their employees. Authenticity. Meaning. Impact.
When looking to create meaningful support, you should also look to your target audience. Talk to your LGBTQ+ consumers and ask them how you can help them. Ask them what will add value to their lives. Give them ways to live their true lives and give them ways to celebrate their individuality. The fashion brands do a great job here, with product designs and collaborations that speak directly to their target markets. Nike. Addidas. Penguin. Ralph Lauren. And guess what, those products get gobbled up especially from companies that support Pride year after year after year!
While thinking through how you want to participate in Pride, you should also be true to your own brand. Don’t stray from who you are just to appeal to a new market. Provide programs, products, and services that are close to your own heart and they will be received as you intend as opposed being dragged down by a profit motive so many are judged by. Look at the LGBTQ+ display piece that LEGO just introduced, designed by a member of our LGBTQ+ community. Perfect fit with the LEGO brand DNA.
Make sure as well that any sales you do create have an impact back. Share the proceeds with organizations that serve your target market’s needs. Work to help build community solutions. I personally always look for programs that support PFLAG or other parenting support organizations. But that’s just me.
As marketers, none of us should be surprised by any backlash we might get as this point. Plan for it. Be prepared to let your supporters support you and stick with your plan. Face the backlash head-on and don’t defend it. Continue to embrace it. We will be there for you when you are there for us. That’s how it works when it comes to marketing and when it comes to life.
At the end of the day, relish in the fact that you are helping people to embrace who they are, live life enthusiastically, and bringing real help to those who need it. Thank you!