Are Brands Good Allies? We Asked LGBTQ+ People to Find Out

Are Brands Good Allies? We Asked LGBTQ+ People to Find Out
22 June, 2023 • ... • 870 views
Selzy Team
by Selzy Team

‘Tis the season of all things rainbow! Pride Month marketing campaigns have been a yearly tradition for decades. However, even experienced marketers in large companies often fumble Pride Month campaigns and face backlash.

Why so? It often happens because marketers don’t know enough about the target audience of Pride Month campaigns. That’s why Team Selzy passed the mic to real queer people and asked them what they think about some of the fresh controversial (and not so) Pride Month brand tie-ins. Keep reading — some answers might surprise you!

Why are we doing this?

This year’s Pride season started with controversy and scandals. Bud Light collaborated with the transgender social media star Dylan Mulvaney, backed off after criticism, released a patriotic ad as an “apology” — and ended up alienating both queer and conservative customers. Roughly at the same time, Target had to put merch stands at the back of the stores and remove certain items to protect their employees from threats and harassment. 

Although Target’s safety concerns are understandable, both brands still showed cowardice. Even worse, Bud Light’s “apology” was an attempt to win back their mostly conservative customer base. This implies that the company perceived Pride Month not as an opportunity to showcase brand values or, you know, actually contribute to the queer community — but only as a way to earn off a wider demographic.

Pride month marketing meme
…or when a Pride Month campaign didn’t bring them enough gay money. Source: Bored Panda

But even PR scandals aside, Pride Month marketing is often out of touch with reality, cringeworthy, and inconsiderate. From rainbow mouthwash bottles to bullet casings and poorly designed shower curtains — who needs those? The situation is so bad that when we were looking for respondents, one person refused to participate because “all gay ads are awful”.

Pride Month marketing meme
This meme in its many variations has become popular on Twitter for a reason. Source: Bored Panda

That’s why we think it’s important to let LGBTQ+ people voice out their opinions on how brands celebrate Pride Month. In this case, the queer community will get actually good brand tie-ins and campaigns that change their lives for the better. And, in the long run, brands will learn to listen to the needs of marginalized groups and be politically conscious during Pride Month instead of releasing rainbow everything. 

Meet our heroes

We talked to three open members of the LGBTQ+ community and asked them to give feedback on 9 both good and bad Pride Month campaigns. We don’t consider this project a study. But even the real opinions of three people can help you get insights on what to do and what to avoid in your Pride Month campaigns.

Now that we got the mandatory disclaimer out of our way, let’s get to know our participants:

  • Ramil M., a make-up artist and a beauty blogger on TikTok, gay
  • Vladislav N., temporarily unemployed, gay
  • Daria B., former journalist, currently a gardener, lesbian

What does Pride Month mean to you? Do you celebrate it?

Daria
Daria

Pride Month is an opportunity to gain strength, express yourself, and get more support than usual. During this time, we see more queer representation than ever which helps normalize LGBTQ+ people and raise awareness about their issues — and combat homophobic, transphobic, and other -phobic tendencies in the society.

Pride Month wasn’t always all joy and rainbows. Its history goes back to the Stonewall Riots, a series of queer community protests after a police raid — these events have become an important milestone for the gay liberation movement. 

Now, Pride Month still holds a political meaning. Not all queer people are safe, even in countries like the US equality is still a goalpost, and the anti-queer backlash to brand tie-ins is one of the reasons we need Pride Month in the first place.

Ramil
Ramil

Because of where I lived, I could not celebrate Pride Month — that was for the safety of me, my friends, and my relatives. But this year I’ll be able to openly attend the Pride event in Paris for the first time. I’ve always dreamed of experiencing this feeling of freedom, and sorry for the tautology, pride in myself and the whole queer community. Since I’m a make-up artist, I want to do make-up in the shades of LGBTQIA+ flags for me and my friends. I am very excited about the upcoming celebration!

Do Pride celebrations have any impact on public queer rights support? Consider this graph. According to GLAAD’s recent Accelerating Acceptance survey, the support for LGBTQ+ rights among non-queer Americans has reached its record high of 84%, and it’s been steadily growing for the last three years.

GLAAD Accelerating Acceptance 2023 survey results
Source: GLAAD
Vladislav
Vladislav

Every month is like a month of pride to me now because my whole life revolves around the LGBT community and I exist thanks to this community since last year. Now I live in Paris in an apartment with other gay men and a trans person, which is provided to us by an organization for young LGBTQ+ persons. So 90% of my entourage are LGBTQ+ people. I am looking forward to the pride parade in Paris to take part in it, proudly hanging the LGBT flag on my shoulders.

So, marketing aside, it’s safe to say that Pride Month is a great initiative that highlights the current issues of the community and increases the visibility of its members. It helps queer people feel seen and safe, and even inspires closeted folks to come out:

Daria
Daria

This year I was inspired by Pride Month and came out as lesbian on social media. It was incredibly liberating! Now I feel more empowered to be authentic. I’ve never been to parades but I’m going to attend Pride Month events in Tbilisi. I usually go to educational events — lectures and performances where I meet with my friends and discuss queer rights and freedoms.

But what about corporate Pride and all things rainbow?

What do you think of Pride Month campaigns?

Ramil
Ramil

To be honest, it makes me very happy! When I see advertisements with representatives of the queer community, say, on the internet, I feel alive and “normal”. Every year, thanks to such advertising campaigns, more and more people consider us “normal”, because we are the same people as they are. We are just like them, we have the same problems and we are no different!

According to the 2022 survey published on Statista, more than half of LGBTQ+ Americans support Pride Month brand tie-ins. The opinion on different types of campaigns was different. The most supported type of Pride Month campaigns was showing queer people in ads. On the other hand, the least supported one was releasing Pride Merch. This is true both for straight and LGBTQ+ respondents.

Pride Month marketing survey results
Source: Statista
Vladislav
Vladislav

My feelings have changed since I moved to Paris.

I used to live in a very homophobic country, and with the news from various media about Pride Month, I received hope for a better future, that one day in my country brands will focus on a huge group of people that we are, that we exist, that it’s OK to be gay. 

Now, living in Paris, and being around the clock in the gay environment and gay culture, I am especially grateful to the companies for participating in Pride Month. It is a political necessity — I don’t care if companies do it for sales or clout, such campaigns still draw attention to the queer community. It is important for me that the LGBTQ+ community is visible, and that people do not forget what our community has achieved over the past decades and how much is to be done.

According to the 2022 annual community survey by CMI, 71% of LGBTQ+ Americans are more likely to purchase something from a brand that outreaches to queer people. However, simply outreaching and advertising to a certain demographic is not enough. 

What do queer people consider good brand allyship? Affirmative action, according to the same survey:

CMI LGBTQ+ community survey results 2022
Source: CMI
Daria
Daria

It’s a nuanced question. The more representation, the better. But brands often remember about the queer community and are vocal about their allyship only during Pride Month, which is kinda hypocritical: companies are obviously trying to earn points off their LGBTQ+ customers. On the bright side, it’s vital to spread awareness about the LGBTQ+ community, its symbols, and cater to the queer customers’ needs.

Pride Month campaigns may indeed come off as publicity stunts. But is it all rainbow capitalism and no real allies? Let’s find out.

Staying Ally-ve: the brands that tried

For our little survey, we chose 9 Pride Month brand tie-ins — some of them caused a massive backlash, others didn’t so far. Let’s take a closer look at these campaigns and find out what our participants think of them.

NYX: Game Over Haters

This year, NYX launched a niche Pride Month campaign dedicated to queer gamers. It included a bold landing page with information about online harassment towards LGBTQ+ gamers and stories of queer beauty bloggers who like video games. The brand advocates for queer-friendly safe spaces in the gaming community and beyond. 

NYX also partnered with the Los Angeles LGBT center they’ve been contributing to since 2020 and made the Allyship training quiz

NYX Game Over Haters Pride Month campaign 2023
Source: NYX Professional Makeup
Ramil
Ramil

I was surprised by this campaign because I also really like video games and I noticed that LGBTQIA+ characters’ identities are often censored in games in some countries. It’s nice to see queer personas who also love video games as the faces of the company. Years ago, I used to think I was the only gay gamer, but now I realize that’s not true!

H&M: My Chosen Family

Last year, this popular fast fashion brand launched a campaign that relies on storytelling. The project is based on the concept of found family, which they explained in the blog article — what it is and how it’s intertwined with the queer experience. “My Chosen Family” included the stories of three queer families featured in the photoshoot and a bold video commercial on Youtube.

Daria
Daria

It feels like they chose the most controversial aspects of the queer culture and presented them to the audience. The campaign can make a wrong impression that LGBTQ+ people are all bright and flamboyant personalities. Meanwhile, the queer community is more diverse — there are quiet people who live simple, ‘traditional“ lives, and don’t want to stand out. The whole found family premise is cool and I support it but it’s not enough to represent the entire community.

Absolut: Out & Open

This vodka brand has been an LGBTQ+ ally for years — their Out & Open initiative is dedicated to helping gay bars. In 2023, Absolut promoted its efforts with an immaculately designed web page where queer folks shared their stories and opinions about gay bars. Absolut also donates to NGLCC, which is an organization that helps businesses owned by LGBTQ+ people.

Absolut Out & Open landing page
Source: Absolut
Vladislav
Vladislav

At first, it seemed to me that Absolut was using Pride Month to raise its image in the market. Even so, they are doing a good thing by talking about the problems in the business of gay bars, which I heard about for the first time. So thank them for that. It is a pity that the organization to which they donate is mainly aimed only at changing the situation in the United States.

Tinder: Pride Stickers

Tinder has been a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to come out before telling their friends and families and search for potential partners for quite a while. And, since the app’s first release, there have been more options added for the queer community — for example, lesser-known identities like demisexual in the “Sexuality” profile field. This year, Tinder added Pride stickers that you can add to your profile if you’re a member of the queer community or an ally.

Tinder Pride stickers 2023
Source: Tinder
Ramil
Ramil

I’m shocked! At first, I thought they only added stickers in honor of Pride Month and it kind of upset me because you can only use them for one month, but then I saw that there are a huge number of features for members of the queer community so that people can RIGHTLY identify themselves, meet safely and feel no fear in the countries that aren’t safe for queer people. By the way, I met my fiancé on Tinder 😉😏

Levi’s: How Do You Show Up

This old apparel brand has been an ally since the 1940s and to this day, and it’s one of not so many brands that don’t forget about the political roots of Pride Month. 

In 2015, they released a collection to commemorate Stonewall Riots, and each Pride-related release is accompanied by donating to the organizations that fight for queer rights. In 2023, Levi’s launched a campaign that focuses on queer self-expression and features the stories of people with a wide range of identities.

Levi’s How Do You Show Up 2023 Pride month campaign
Source: Levi’s
Vladislav
Vladislav

I am glad that Levi’s cooperates with an organization that fights for LGBTQ+ rights around the world. I like that many representatives of the LGBTQ+ community from all over the world are involved in this campaign, as if saying: “Look, we exist, we are the same as you. Yes, we struggle to be ourselves and sleep with whoever we want, but we are the same people as you.” Perhaps this is the first step to changing the way homophobic people think. The first step is to understand that we are all human beings, and the next step is to accept all our differences.

Skittles’ Annual Pride campaign

Each year, during Pride Month, Skittles release limited packs of colorless candy — but their Pride marketing efforts go far beyond that. In 2023, the brand collaborated with 5 queer artists to design the packs and released a collection of queer stories on Audible. The brand is also currently preparing a mini-series of Pride-themed podcast episodes with Cameron Esposito.

Skittles Pride podcast series project 2023
Source: Audible
Daria
Daria

This campaign is prudent and rubs me the wrong way because it avoids discussing the pressure that LGBTQ+ people all over the world have to endure. It has nothing to do with representation and spreading queer awareness.

Colon Broom: promoting eating disorders?

Now, let’s talk about the real bad guys! This brand of dietary supplements for gut health released a questionable ad on Instagram that caused a massive backlash on Twitter. Rainbow capitalism at its finest with the unnecessary use of the Pride flag and questionable incentives.

Ramil
Ramil

Colon Broom is awful! I mean, they use the word “pride” in the wrong context, just hiding behind Pride Month, as if checking a box ✅ that they too support the LGBTQIA+ community, thus promoting their product — it’s disgusting!

Postmates: Eat With Pride

Postmates is a food delivery service that was acquired by Uber in 2020. In 2022, they released a questionable Pride Month video ad on Instagram. In this ad, the brand promoted its “bottom-friendly” menu and explained which foods are good and bad if you want to have a *fun* night. The video received a lot of negative comments on Instagram, mainly for sexualization that many people found inappropriate for a food delivery app.

Vladislav
Vladislav

I like that they don’t hesitate to talk about fetishism like leather and jockstrap. 

I don’t like that this company uses these fetishes as part of pride month, following the stereotypes about the gay community as “you are either top or bottom”. This could be taken from a company whose product line is initially targeting a niche demographic with certain sexual preferences — but not from a company that is focused on food delivery the rest of the year. A clear attempt to make more money. And I don’t even know how this advertising campaign could be improved, except for completely changing it.

LEGO: Everyone Is Awesome

This June, LEGO released a special set called “Everyone Is Awesome”. It’s designed by Matthew Ashton, the Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group, who is queer himself. The set is aimed at showcasing diversity beyond the Pride flag — it includes the colors of the transgender flag and even a drag queen figurine. LEGO also published two stories: an article about the designer and a collaboration with Samira Wiley

Everyone Is Awesome LEGO set
Source: LEGO
Daria
Daria

I like that LEGO brought so much fun into talking about diversity — I even had a giggle while browsing this page. The slogan is great too — it conveys the spirit of Pride. But I’m confused why this LEGO set is marked 18+. Why does the brand that makes designer sets for kids hide information about queer people from its target audience?

How can brands improve Pride Month marketing?

There are many recommendations on how to do inclusive marketing right without exploiting or offending everyone. But even if you follow them letter by letter, your efforts will go to waste if you don’t listen to your actual target audience. That’s why, instead of trying to teach you how to do it right, we decided to shut up and give the floor to our wonderful participants.

Vladislav
Vladislav

In my opinion, during Pride Month, companies should talk about the problems that the LGBTQ+ community faces almost daily from the heterosexual majority and the government. They should show that we are all different: different ages, different social statuses, different nationalities, different religions, different political views. 

And of course, it would be ideal if companies donated part of their proceeds to charities aimed at protecting the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ramil
Ramil

Most importantly, don’t misuse the word “pride”!

For my promotional campaign, I would invite well-known and open representatives of the queer community who are idols for many people, thus showing that the LGBTQIA+ community is not a minority!

There are many of us, we live in the same world as you, we cross paths on the street when we go to the same job, we sit in the same coffee shop, drink the same coffee and add our favorite syrup that you don’t like.

Daria
Daria

I think it would be awesome if brands didn’t hesitate to show that they donate money to initiatives that target painful aspects of the LGBTQ+ life. For example, they could create retreats or shelters for queer people. It would be great if brands went beyond rainbow merchandise and started donating money to improve psychological help services for queer people or lobbying anti-homophobic laws in countries where being queer is illegal or unsafe.

The takeaway is, socially responsible marketing is more than virtue signaling, claiming that you’re an “ally”, and using Pride-related symbols. If your brand is or wants to become an ally, contribute to the community! Listen to real queer people, provide a space for representation and visibility, and run charity campaigns — with or without rainbow everything. 

And if you came up with a good Pride Month email campaign for your business, Selzy can help you spread the word! 

With our user-friendly email builder, you can set up and send out your first email campaign in 15 minutes. Even better, you can send up to 1,500 emails to 100 contacts a month for free. 

Get started before June is over!

22 June, 2023
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