Fashion and beauty brands continue to use Pride Month as a springboard for profit, to a polarizing effect.
While organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and AdRespect offer resources for best practices around LGBTQ marketing, not every company adheres to the recommendations, which include being sensitive to using alienating stereotypes like the effeminate gay man. As a result, many of these campaigns can come across as gimmicky or contrived. According to a recent study by market research technology firm FocusVision, 52 percent of consumers feel brands should advocate on behalf of the the LGBTQ community, while the rest expressed hesitancy or opposition. Of the respondents, 28 percent said brands should be doing more, 33 percent said their current approach is “about right” and 21 percent said they should be doing less.
Much like the challenges fashion and beauty face regarding marketing in the #MeToo era, companies are faced with finding a meaningful way to be part of conversations around social issues without coming across as a schtick. Some brands like Kiehl’s, Milk Makeup, American Eagle and Gap have identified ways to mindfully advertise to LGBTQ communities. Kiehl’s, for example, is led by CEO Chris Salgardo, an openly gay man and vocal advocate of LGBTQ rights, who speaks often in support of equality and hosts events at his New York City flagship store.
The key is that brands do more than just shill product and cloak a campaign in a good cause. If not, they run the risk of appearing to be rainbow-tinted ploys from companies looking to tap into a global LGBTQ community with an estimated spending power of $5 trillion.
According to Aaron Jue, market research director at FocusVision, what differentiates a positive effort from pandering is tangible support of the LGBTQ community by sponsoring events and rallies, rather than just sharing an empty social media post or claiming to donate a portion of proceeds.
“[Brands] run the critical risk of being seen as opportunistic and potentially alienating a significant portion of consumers who will place their loyalty in another brand’s hands,” he said. “It’s incredibly easy today to have consumers share their opinions, so brands have an imperative to listen to their customers. It’s much easier to ask for opinions than ask for forgiveness over a tone-deaf campaign.”
Brands like L’Oréal, for example, have found a way to have more direct impact by developing Out@L’Oréal, an internal LGBTQ employee think tank. The group helped launch #SignsOfPride this year, a partnership with LGBTQ artists on artwork inspired by their personal stories, which were subsequently shared on social media during corresponding events. During the month of June, L’Oréal shared several Pride-related posts, including a mix of employee activism events and Pride-inspired products.
L’Oreal participating in NYC Pride for its #SignsOfPride campaign
While companies like L’Oréal are going all-in on supporting the LGBTQ community, others are missing out all together, in part out of concern to touch a sensitive topic but also due to oversight, according to a study by Brand Innovators and Into, a media company owned by Grindr. The report found that 32 percent of brands do not include the LGBTQ community in media plans and 14 percent said they primarily focus on this audience during Pride Month.
As a result, brands may be ultimately missing opportunities to effectively connect to shoppers. A third of respondents in the FocusVision study said they would be more likely to purchase from a company that advocates for LGBTQ issues, and nearly 40 percent reported having a more positive impression of a brand after seeing an inclusive LGBTQ advertisement. Those who felt a negative perception — 19 percent — cited specifically that they felt it was “co-opting a legit cause to make bank,” and that it feels “too contrived.”
“Advocate without making a big deal about it,” wrote one respondent. “A scene with two dads and a kid doesn’t need to have a big rainbow flag on it. Just present it the same way you would a straight couple, which wouldn’t have an American flag over them unless it’s a Memorial Day sale.”