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Date: June 23, 2023
Author: Flannery Dejean
Go Big or Go Home: How are Retailers Showing Pride in an Era of Contentious Politics?
This year, major US companies supporting Pride Month have been finding it a tough go. Two big-name brands, Target and Bud Light, copped a hammering from right-wing media and social platforms for supporting minor LGBTQ+ initiatives. Both brands ended up backing down after calls for boycotts and violent threats towards employees. This has some worried that companies will be less willing to openly support such causes in the future.
Despite greater acceptance of gay rights in recent years, trans acceptance remains a thorny issue. Campaigns that were once seen as low risk are now attracting criticism from those opposing trans rights, causing a PR nightmare that could impact sales. This has upset the very demographic these campaigns were aiming to reach and might make it trickier for future inclusive marketing efforts.
More than Money
And the backlash isn’t just impacting sales (side note: where it is, experts expect the financial hit to be negligible in the long term). It’s also about image: Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s owner company, lost its spot on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality list. California Governor, Gavin Newsom, accused Target’s CEO of abandoning the LGBTQ+ community.
Sephora’s 2019 Pride campaign ‘We Belong to Something Beautiful’ takes centre stage – with a New York twist – for the beauty multinational’s Time Square flagship opening party. Sephora has been marketing to LGBTQ+ communities since 2018 with their complimentary ‘Classes for Confidence’ by and for transgender individuals.
The Dark Before the Dawn…
The expectation is that companies who want to participate in Pride will have to be prepared to stand their ground. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some reckon this could be a turning point, as it was for gay and lesbian representation years ago. GLAAD – the world’s largest LGBTQ+ media advocacy organisation – has even set up a ‘corporate rapid response team for Pride,’ to help brands prepare for and handle potential backlash.
Levi’s went beyond the rainbow in its 2018 europe-wide Pride campaign. A proud and engaged LGBTQ+ ally for more than three decades, the global jeanswear leader also makes generous donations to the cause (often 100% of net campaign proceeds).
Clearly, the future of corporate involvement in Pride is a bit of a mixed bag. Simply jumping on a trend or social cause for short-term gain can lead to significant PR issues if the brand is then inconsistent or insincere. Furthermore, brands might be accused of slacktivism or rainbow washing if their support only goes as far as their bottom line. On the other hand, neglecting to mark the month could also be seen as a glaring omission by audiences.
While some companies might decide to play it safe, others hold their ground. Brands like North Face are continuing with their Pride marketing campaigns, despite some Republicans calling for a boycott. And Nike, whose 2018 campaign featuring Colin Kapernick also provoked backlash, finished by winning an Emmy for it and increasing share prices. As the saying goes, “Fortune favours the brave.”
So, how can smart businesses celebrate Pride Month in 2023 and beyond?
The key lesson here for retailers is to consider retail activations not just as marketing strategies, but as reflections of their brand values that require:
- a deeper understanding of current and future audiences,
- careful planning,
- true commitment, and
- strategic risk management.
Nike: One of the sports apparel giant’s Be True campaign activations, featuring kaleidoscopic rainbow 360° window displays, neon sneaker signs, & the #BeTrue collection available (with customisable screen-printing) in-store. Nike have been running their Be True campaigns since 2012.
For a holistic approach to improving your retail presence through print, merchandising, display solutions, and more, turn to Fusion. Our strategists can help you navigate the competitive, sometimes contentious world of retail and achieve an approach that aligns with your brand’s values and your company’s goals. Connect with today’s audiences – reach out to us at [email protected] today.