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Industry leaders on how brands authentically communicate support for LGBTQ+ individuals in a tense political climate?
Outvertising, the UK’s advocacy group for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in marketing and advertising, marked the start of pride month with a statement calling on brands to stand their ground.
The statement, which has been endorsed by 64 organisations, including the World Federation of Advertisers, ISBA, Advertising Association, DMA, The Marketing Society, IAB UK, Dentsu, Grey London, Publicis Egalite, VMLY&R, Ogilvy, Stonewall, Pride in London, WPP Unite, WACL, NABS, Trans+ Adland and GLAAD, calls on brands to show true, not performative, allyship.
The organisation is calling on advertisers to continue with their Pride campaigns and recommends exercising allyship through investment and divestment. The allyship of business is essential, as government statistics for England and Wales show a 126% increase in hate crime based on sexual orientation, and a 156% increase based on Transgender identity, since 2017. With this in mind we asked industry leaders how can brands authentically communicate support for LGBTQ+ individuals in a tense political climate?
Pride this year is more important than ever, with hate crimes on the rise across the nation and the lives of the trans community under increasing threat. In the past two weeks, it’s been disappointing to see a growing number of brands back down to bullies and erase their public support of the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of backlash.
As Outvertising’s statement rightfully outlines, now is not the time for brands to be backing down to bullies on social media that disagree with them. Tweets should not be deleted, campaigns reversed, nor commitments revoked. The LGBTQ+ community, and particularly our trans siblings, need to feel seen and represented by the marketing industry. Only time will tell which brands are ready to stand strong.
There is no doubt that the whole LGBTQIA+ community is facing a politicised storm right now, with the trans community at the forefront of these attacks. But if we use history as our guide to the future, it tells us that many of our hard-fought progressive rights were often won by taking two steps forward and one step back. Progress is rarely linear. I’m heartened by all the evidence suggesting that the young people of today who will be the policymakers of tomorrow have more tolerant, open views than any of the preceding generations.
Advertising is at its best when it holds a mirror up to society, and truly reflects what’s going on in the wider world. So, to ensure the future success of our industry, we need to continue doing just that. Put simply, brands must hold their nerve, not just because it makes sense morally, but because it makes sense commercially too. There is an abundance of tangible evidence to support this view, and those brands that demonstrate unwavering commitment will emerge all the stronger.
To those advertisers feeling buffeted by the current storm, I’d suggest drawing upon that old but reliable mantra: keep calm and carry on.
Brands can't just rainbow-wash and piggy-back onto Pride celebrations as a one-off sales technique - you have to be a true ally and advocate in supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The government statistics for England and Wales show a 126% increase in hate crime based on sexual orientation, and a 156% increase based on Transgender identity, since 2017 which clearly and plainly states that progress hasn't been there in a way that really matters. When brands face backlash for their support, it is their opportunity to prove the authenticity of their rainbow logos and branding of yesteryears. In pulling away in this critical moment, they invalidate and insult everything that has come before. If equality isn't embedded in your permanent business strategy, if it isn't reflected in your internal company policies and values, and has just been used as an inauthentic marketing tactic - it is the ultimate insult, which customers are becoming increasingly sharper at spotting.
Consumers have spoken, and the days of brands changing their profile picture on social media to a Pride flag won’t cut it anymore.
Consumers vote with their wallets, showing up for what’s important to them, and they expect brands to do the same. So, whether it’s Pride Month, mental health or climate change, the onus is on brands to understand what matters to their customers, gauge the potential for negative reactions, determine how they engage on the issues and take action to make a difference.
In a recent survey, we found that 55% of consumers in the U.K. and U.S. have boycotted a brand that didn't align with their views in the last 12 months, so thoroughly knowing your audience is step one.
Pride is a moment for the LGBTQI+ community to celebrate freedom of expression, self-identity and self-esteem by rejecting labels, stereotypes and judgement. For me, it is taking pride in who I am as a person, recognising that I am not defined by a single attribute or label. At the centre of this is a celebration rather than a political position.
Business and brand support matters. Brand actions help raise visibility and awareness by building conversations and learnings. If they put this creativity at the core of how they celebrate Pride, they will establish a strong connection with the LGBTQI+ community and their wider audience of allies.
Being authentic means not falling for the dogma and division of what politicians or “groups of hate” elevate to a moral mission. Businesses should work with their employees and consumers to guide and honor their personal stories – when the narrative is personal in communications, it has greater depth and connection. Abstract concepts and generic platitudes do not create belief or trust – this is ‘rainbow washing’.
Doing the “right thing” for Pride shouldn't be about making money but making the world better. Not only in the headlines and marketing but also behind the scenes with non-profit organisations and government leaders, to secure the rights of everyone through legislation. Brand integrity demands pride and inclusivity, to be connected with authenticity and commitments, not just campaigns.
I love it when this comes up each year, in June, and each year with more gusto. The questionable brand behaviours on box-ticking, flash in the pan donations and rainbow pride merch with non-existent presence in mainstream social feeds and core customer touchpoints just shouts loud about inauthenticity, commitment, and beliefs. That’s where it fails.
Pride is about diversity, equality, representation – really being seen, showing love, and killing discrimination. It is a criminal offence to be gay in 64 countries and Stonewall cite 1 in 5 experience LGBT hate crimes in the UK, saying that is woefully underplayed against the truth of daily forms of abuse happening all around. Marketers need to figure out what it means to them and just how much – then get behind all of it today and tomorrow. Measure the real difference made to people’s lives through legislation, acceptance in the workplace, and inclusivity of sexual orientation through real representation in campaigns.
This month, for the first time, I was excited to be able to buy my dog cases of Lily’s Love and Pride Limited Edition food. 100% of profits goes to MindOut, the mental health service for the LGBTQ community. What’s not to like? Thing is, I want to buy it all of the time, and support my community through daily actions, not just in June.
Pride was once a joyful day, now it’s a month, what about a whole year, every year? Just imagine what change that can make. Brands have the power to do it.
Communicating support for the LGBTQ+ community has never been more important given not only the increase in hate crime in recent times, but the backlash many brands are facing for campaigns that feature LGBTQ+ individuals. Authenticity is key when communicating with diverse audiences, and to truly represent the LGBTQ+ community, those with lived experience need to be part of devising and delivering a campaign. A great slogan that typifies this ethos is ‘no campaign about us without us’, from WPP’s Unite community. Championing individuals with lived experiences will result in better campaigns, and ultimately drive better outcomes.
An easy win for brands communicating with LGBTQ+ individuals is partnering with LGBTQ+ media partners. Brands can borrow credibility from diverse media partners and lean on a wealth of knowledge about what would resonate best with their audiences. Brands need to identify their unique role in the conversation and establish a purpose for an LGBTQ+ campaign to avoid it simply becoming a badging exercise during Pride Month. A brand needs to ask: ‘What tangible difference can our brand make to this community?’ and then work backwards from that.
Consumers are adept at identifying tokenistic campaigns. Brands that stand their ground and authentically represent diverse communities are noticed ahead of the rest. You may not cut through for putting a rainbow on your logo, but you will be remembered for being brave.
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