Eve Mair, Senior Research & Insight Analyst at We Are Social, explains how brands need to remain committed to their support of the LGBTQIA+ community, and in their influence to educate and challenge opposing views.
In recent years, Pride campaigns have undergone a significant transformation. While they have often been plagued by concerns about inauthenticity, profiteering, and the emptiness of so-called “rainbow capitalism” from the LGBTQIA+ community; on the whole, they were seen as “good business” by corporations and brands. An easy win to demonstrate tolerance and ‘allyship’ without being asked too many questions.
However, with increasingly high levels of anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment (particularly towards the trans community) increasing throughout the Western world, backlash against Pride campaigns is intensifying. From social listening on Brandwatch, the term ‘trans’ has experienced a rise in negative sentiment from 39% in 2016-2017 to 54% in 2022-2023, demonstrating a clear increase in negative conversation surrounding trans identities. For brands, the scepticism of the past is being usurped by anger, vitriol and boycotting from vocal voices on the internet.
Data from Goldman Sachs indicates that some brands are experiencing a decline in sales following their Pride campaigns. Brands feel, then, that they are being caught in the crossfire and it’s safe to say that some are panicking. In the US, Target removed its Pride range from shops following violence towards staff (and bomb threats) as a consequence of conspiratorial accusations linking the brand to Satanism and sexual abuse. Criticism from the LGBTQIA+ community then follows these decisions, with people stating that the brands aren’t protecting the communities they were happy to profit from pre-backlash. It’s clear then that the half-hearted Pride campaigns of years past will no longer do.
As a consequence of the apparent increase in intolerance – the importance of Pride has been reinstated. Whilst Pride has always been a political movement, many companies were previously divorcing the political from their campaigns, preferring to remain apolitical to avoid controversy. However, as proven by this increasing backlash and the tentativeness with which LGBTQIA+ people are embraced by society – it is impossible to remove the movement from its political roots.
Consequently, brands seeking to make a meaningful impact must be prepared to take a risk and embrace the political nature of Pride – they have to take a stand that may be at the cost of their brand in order to show genuine allyship. Instead of shying away from ‘controversial’ issues, they can use their influence to educate and challenge, creating real change and a positive impact on society. Absolut did this perfectly in 2022, demonstrating that allyship goes beyond product, when they established their “Out and Open” initiative, which worked to help keep LGBTQIA+ bars – safe spaces for many queer people – stay open and thrive.
Standing up for your Pride campaigns and the community also may not be the bad business sense that brands think it is. It’s worth noting that the vocal minority do not necessarily represent the big picture. Whilst it’s true that anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment appears to be growing on social platforms, brands may tend to overestimate the power and size of the groups who are actively boycotting – an example of cognitive bias, explained by what psychologists call error management theory, assuming that the threat is far larger than it really is. In the US, for example, a GLAAD study recently identified that if a brand publicly supports and demonstrates a commitment to expanding and protecting LGBTQIA+ rights, consumers are twice as likely to buy that brand.
Brands must be prepared to weather the storm, standing firmly in their commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. In doing so, they not only demonstrate their support but also send a powerful message that equality and acceptance are non-negotiable values for them. After all, brand values mean very little if brands don’t stick by them. Brands can build much needed trust and establish long-lasting connections with the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond through Pride – but it has to be a two-way relationship.