This year, the reaction to Pride month celebrations of the LGBTQ community seems particularly heated.
Some media claim brands have pulled back their public support, noting the perceived retreat by Budweiser and Target in response to protests and threats from small but vocal groups.
But have brands diminished their Pride month marketing?
CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose shares his thoughts in this week’s CMI News video. Watch it below, or keep reading for the highlights:
Just because it feels different doesn’t mean it is
Robert says 2023 does feel different than 2022 when Mastercard hosted Pride Plaza in the metaverse, Peloton featured a new clothing line and highlighted their LGBTQ instructors, and Nordstrom highlighted the Pride campaigns launched by retail brands, such as Converse, Doc Martens, and Vans.
Target, which has celebrated Pride for over a decade, had clothing, events, and other initiatives. Even Bud Light had rainbow bottles, a Bud Light Pride River Parade in San Antonio, and donated $200,000 to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. (And Kid Rock didn’t shoot up cans of Bud Light in protest in 2022.)
But though the numbers are difficult to find, the participation of brands – minus one or two big names – in Pride campaigns hasn’t diminished. In 2023, the perception of greater risk or more challenges when celebrating Pride is the reality.
That and similar perceptions of other communities’ celebrations have prompted many brands to ask this question: How do we create a memorable marketing message (because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about) that resonates with all audiences?
But is that the goal? Should brands strive to resonate with all audiences? Should they strive to be so unremarkable that no one cares?
Sesame Street teaches the lesson
“As a marketer, I find it puzzling that brands continue to struggle with this, and some, namely Bud Light, do it in such a ham-fisted way,” Robert says. “So many other brands seem to do it well. Apple comes to mind this year, as well as Absolut Vodka, LEGO, and Sesame Street.”
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) June 12, 2023
Interestingly, Sesame Street received tons of pushback for its “Happy Pride Month” tweet from that small vocal minority. What did they do? Nothing. They just continued with their content plan. Therein lies something all brands can learn.
If you’re considering messages that acknowledge and celebrate Pride or any other community, think content and brand first, not sales. (Of course, exceptions exist, such as brands that create products specifically for those communities.)
“The celebration isn’t about your brand. The community doesn’t need or want your permission to be them,” Robert explains. “If you do that, you may set your brand up as an appropriator of the community’s identity just to be on the side of something different.”
Instead, create messaging that celebrates the inclusion of who the community is. “The point isn’t helping people to become more like your brand. It’s about how your brand supports them in accepting themselves, celebrating themselves, and becoming more of who they are,” Robert says.
You also shouldn’t start that messaging conversation about Pride or other community-focused celebrations by asking, “How will we defend this decision?” If you do, you should think twice about moving forward because your brand clearly doesn’t have or hasn’t established a fundamental belief.
Bud Light didn’t get that. It’s why they threw influencer Dylan Mulvaney, who is transgender, and its marketing executives under the bus for their Instagram promotion.
Now, don’t confuse not starting from a defensive place with not being ready to defend your point of view. Brands should always consider how to react when a loud minority objects without reversing its point of view. Sesame Street did that by saying nothing.
“Any great marketing requires being really right for someone and being really wrong for someone else,” Robert says.
You can’t compartmentalize your marketing messaging to optimize for every audience segment. Your brand must believe everything it will say, even if it opts not to say it in the moment. If you choose to say things the brand doesn’t believe, don’t be surprised when your audience doesn’t believe you. Or worse, they create your brand’s beliefs on your behalf.
What are you doing to amplify voices for Pride celebrations on your content and marketing teams or your business? Please share in the comments. But for now, let us wish you “Happy Pride!”
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute