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Brand Strategy Agency Advice Agencies

Indie agency leaders explain how to make the business case for your Pride marketing

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

June 29, 2023 | 11 min read

Here’s how you can help clients bolster the business case behind Pride marketing now the political tide has begun to turn.

pride flag

How can agencies help marketers hold the line on Pride activations? / Unsplash

Following a right-wing, transphobic backlash in the US towards certain brands using their marketing channels to support the LGBTQ+ community, brand marketers and company directors have got more anxious about their support for Pride.

Standing by previous Pride commitments is undoubtedly the right course of action morally, but as they come under pressure from outside influence or conservatism inside their organization, marketers will likely need to evidence the business case for such activations and strategies. Can agencies help them prove that support for Pride is the correct stance commercially as well as ethically?

We asked experts at indie agencies for their take.

How can you solve a problem like… making Pride marketing meaningful?

Rich Beecroft, senior lead, brand strategy and marketing, ScienceMagic: “The heat on marketers has undoubtedly intensified this year. But the effectiveness question remains unchanged. The LGBTQIA+ community, by scale and spending power alone, is a valuable community to most brands. Pride should never be a tokenistic one-off. It should be the joyous pinnacle of a year-round plan.

“Building that meaningful plan starts by understanding the genuine connection your brand has with the community – the values, hopes and ambitions you share. That will guide how you show up, whether that’s giving your stage to create moments of visibility or injecting some much-needed rainbow joy into the world. Authenticity is the answer.”

Yaa Addae, senior behavioral analyst, Canvas8: “While just over half of the LGBTQIA+ community in the UK and US say they’re cynical of brands speaking out on issues they care about, 70% say brand support of LGBTQIA+ representation makes a difference to their purchasing decisions (Source: Canvas8, 2023).

“What people are looking for is support beyond surface-level gestures. They’re looking for collaborative campaigns, fundraisers for smaller LGBTQIA+ charities and activities that last all year round. A great example of this is Aesop, which each year partners with local bookshops around the world to turn its stores into community-centered educational spaces, offering free titles from LGBTQIA+ authors.”

Colin Peter O’Riordan, senior digital strategist, Brandwidth: “LGBTQ+ consumers are increasingly scrutinizing insincere brands and many are astute enough to see through superficial attempts at rainbow washing that tend to surface every June. With the recent backlashes and boycotts surrounding brands, it’s clear that many businesses don’t know how to put the right foot forward. My advice to brands is to decide whether they are willing to make a commitment to year-round marketing and support for the LGBTQ+ community, rather than indulging in mere trend-driven campaigns that can make them purely opportunistic. It is critical that brands who engage in Pride-related marketing have a clearly defined approach to dealing with attacks from other groups. When a brand is unwavering in its stance and what it represents, that in turn will lead to the strongest brand perception.”

Melissa Chapman, chief executive officer, Jungle Creations: “Brands need to be brave and help to be a part of the change by using the power of their voices, actions and platforms. If their pursuit is to reach new, younger audiences, they need to be prepared to lose and challenge bigoted voices of the past and work towards the future – or they’ll end up clutching onto a dying narrative and archaic consumer base. In short, if you’re not prepared to be an authentic ally, don’t try to use the movement for sales patter.”

Mark Izatt, director of creative, Cream: “In today’s climate, we need to remind ourselves that Pride is a protest. Branded Pride campaigns should be about supporting a community under attack and not about making a profit. Strive to create helpful visibility and celebrate the community, look after your own LGBTQIA+ employees, pay and protect extra LGBTQIA+ talent you contract, make donations to relevant charities and be prepared to deliver clear public statements in unwavering support of the community – unlike the infamous Bud Light backtrack. Pride involves rejecting bigoted consumers and losing their income, with purpose. The most pertinent point, however, is that this support should be visible all year round. Not just June.”

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Paul Dazeley, head of planning, TMW Unlimited: “We’ve been here before. When extremists burnt their Nike socks after the brand supported Colin Kaepernick, it felt like mass hysteria. In reality, Nike riled up a few racists, grew its market share and landed on the right side of history.

“LGBTQIA+ allyship in 2023 will, unfortunately, attract more homophobia and transphobia than before. But cowering to the fiercely vocal minority risks rejection from the silent majority. Attempts by Starbucks to avoid any Pride backlash by banning in-store decorations backfired with 3,500 employees going on strike. For meaningful pride marketing, don’t go in lightly. Truly understand how your LGBTQIA+ customers and employees feel. Only empathy can create meaningful allyship that will deliver in the long-term.”

Jeffrey Tousey, founder and chief executive officer, Beekman Social: “It is widely understood that changing a logo or profile picture to a rainbow is not a Pride marketing strategy and consumers can detect if a brand’s participation is genuine. When clients approach us to leverage cultural moments like Pride month, we consistently challenge them to consider if their intentions are rooted in meaningful action. We inquire about organic ways in which their brand already aligns with Pride. If their motivation is solely opportunistic, we strongly encourage them to shift their focus toward tangible action, such as engaging in profit-sharing with LGBTQ+ organizations or encouraging employee involvement in community programs, Pride runs and other similar initiatives. These actions can then be showcased authentically on their channels. Social media serves as a means to amplify a brand’s genuine efforts and an engaged audience will positively respond to this authenticity.”

Gerry Ramirez, vice-president, partnership development, My Code: “First, brands must understand what the goal is for their Pride marketing objectives – what are you trying to get out of this initiative and are you taking into account the multicultural perspectives within the LGBTQIA+ communities?

Most importantly, Pride marketing should be evergreen and not tentpole based. Understanding the LGBTQIA+ audience should be at the core of your marketing efforts because any community must be understood before it is engaged. So ask: who is your target audience? Are they represented across branding/production? Do you have internal experts? Are the partners supporting you qualified to employ these nuanced strategies? With those questions as a checklist, your marketing efforts will not only come across as meaningful but will emit authenticity showcasing true support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Rana Reeves, founder and chief executive officer, RanaVerse: “With clients, we are looking bigger-picture than Pride – Pride itself is a narrowed down approach to LGBTQ+ marketing. Brands are having to shift and navigate activism in a way never seen before; the playbook is being rewritten in real-time. We are starting with: what are the values of the brand? What is the holistic landscape of where activity is being suggested and what does it look like intersectionally? How do we traverse polarizing points of view? The bottom line is that values should be non-negotiable – they are a marketing north star. How you articulate them can be flexible if you understand the environment the work is going into, but walking back from them can only damage a brand. The first question we ask is: what is the meaningful and measurable positive change you are affecting for LGBTQ+ communities? Then we work forward from there.”

Tim Baggott, executive creative director, Amplify (Australia): ”The road to equality remains long and brands have the resources to amplify these moments to their considerable audiences, make an impact and, importantly, maintain the momentum once the glitter has settled on Pride. Brands should show up in a way that is true to both their brand and the LGBQTIA+ community. Consider how the brand, product or service helps the community fulfill its goals and drives progress. This could be helping to overcome barriers, improve safety or to promote inclusivity and joy. But it needs to be real. And genuine representation and inclusivity is vital. It’s far more meaningful to collaborate with LGBQTIA+ creatives and organizations in the development of campaigns, not just the execution. Brands must also ensure that their external communications are reflected in their internal company policies. If they aren’t, then perhaps now is not yet the time to participate.”

Louis Sumpter, founder and strategy director at creative agency, EveryFriday: “The problem with ’Pride marketing’ is that it’s becoming a mindless ritualized gesture. Just another box to tick on the marketing calendar. Pride flags up outside HQ… tick. Rainbow version of the logo… tick. Ghostwritten statement from the CEO… tick. When you find yourself just going through the motions it’s likely any meaning or intent will have long since drained away. Without this, there’s little weight behind what you’re doing and it’s easily dismissed as ’fluff’.

“We need to forget about doing ’Pride marketing’ and start thinking about how to highlight the underlying issues. Pride was designed to address how we raise up our LGBTQ+ communities, demonstrate allyship and tackle discrimination and injustice that’s still being experienced today. We shouldn’t feel beholden to only talk about this in June – other months of the year are available too.”

Feel like sticking your oar in? Email me and I’ll clue you in to next week’s debate.

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