I like to think that most bad Pride marketing starts with good intentions. Part of the problem is that one-off Pride stunts never ring true unless they’re backed by an ongoing effort to communicate with LGBTQ+ consumers. You can’t claim to be inclusive if it’s not a core part of your brand strategy year round.
So, before you start developing next year’s Pride plan, step back and assess your relationship with the community, and remember that actions speak louder than ads (even creative ones). Here are some guidelines I’ve prepared, based not only on my experience as a strategist, but on years of conversations with LGBTQ+ friends about what we really want to see in June.
Spotlight LGBTQ+ individuals and issues throughout the year
Marketing strategy often involves other people: influencer campaigns, product collabs, ad casting, guest bloggers, etc. Each of these moments is an opportunity to share your platform and spotlight LGBTQ+ individuals, no matter what month it is. Just remember, people are more than their sexual and gender identity—spotlight them for their talent, creativity, and insights, too!
This is especially important if you are an ally, but your business isn’t in a position to speak up directly about social and political issues. And, of course, if social justice is part of your brand, stay up to date on issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community, and the individuals and organizations working in that space. There are plenty of urgent issues to choose from: after a wave of anti-trans bills, 2021 will be a record-breaking year for discriminatory legislation in the United States.
Check assumptions in your everyday marketing
Are you only targeting cis, straight couples during Valentine’s Day promotions? Does your messaging reinforce outdated gender stereotypes (“Moms, your lil dude will flip for our camo-print activewear, and every princess will swoon when she sees this sparkly tiara”)? There are a zillion ways in which restrictive assumptions about gender and sexual orientation influence marketing. Learn to notice them, then think about how you might push against these limitations. If Tiffany can reimagine wedding proposals after 178 years, anything’s possible.
Look at user journeys through a wider lens
All successful marketing starts with a customer-first perspective. We constantly encourage clients to look at their owned channels through a customer’s eyes. To take it a step further, broaden your ideas about what a customer’s perspective might be.
For example, consider how a nonbinary or gender non-conforming customer might experience your website: Are there mandatory gender selections that aren’t really necessary? If you ask for gender identification, do you have options beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’? Designing for a full range of human experiences—not just a few—expands your potential audience, and shows your commitment to inclusivity.
Know the history
Pride is part of a social movement and an issue that is bigger than selling a product. You as a company are willfully profiting off the celebration that comes from a long history of prejudice, adversity, and fighting for basic rights. Making sure you understand the roots of Pride will help you approach campaigns with more nuance and respect, and perhaps spark inspiration. Take a look at Nordstrom’s multi-faceted Pride campaign, which clearly reflects the company’s deep understanding of LGBTQ+ issues and history. There are interviews with queer designers, spotlights on LGBTQ+-owned brands, an exclusive collab with queer-owned indie brand Wildfang, and direct support for Trans Lifeline and FOLX Health, two essential but lesser-known nonprofits.
- LGBTQ+ collections at the Library of Congress
- PFLAG: Our Story
- GLBT Historical Society
- The Digital Transgender Archive
- The Complete History of Pride
Involve LGBTQ+ team members and creators in Pride-specific planning
That doesn’t just mean hiring a celebrity to be the face of your campaign. Think about who's involved at the concept and planning stages where decisions get made. Ask your LGBTQ+ team members for input; listen, and be open to new ideas. Intersectionality is key here: I’ve been in a lot of rooms where the LGBTQ+ representation was solely affluent, educated, and white.
At Part and Sum, we work hard to get the right people in the room during workshops and brainstorm sessions. When a diverse group of LGBTQ+ people play an active role, your Pride marketing will be smarter, more interesting, more honest, and more likely to connect with your audience. And if your campaign requires vendors, creatives, and consultants, hire LGBTQ+ individuals and businesses. Nothing says “I support you” like a paycheck.
Donate—but be specific
“A portion of proceeds” could mean anything. If you’re donating a portion of sales to LGBTQ+ nonprofits during Pride, be up front about how much you’re giving, where it’s going, and why you chose to support those organizations. Actively bring attention to the recipients by featuring them on your website, blog, or social media. What do they do? What have they accomplished? Who is running them? Introduce them to your audience, and help them grow their own following.
Here’s an example: 100% of the profits from Harry’s "Shave with Pride" set go to The Trevor Project, and the product page includes information about the organization, as well as its counseling and crisis hotline numbers. Plus, the set was designed by queer artist Zipeng Zhu.
If you’re not sure, just ask!
It really is OK to ask questions in good faith. We’re all learning as we go, and it’s normal to be confused about new acronyms, terminology, definitions, and shifts in thinking. If someone drops the word ‘pansexual’ in a Pride planning meeting and you have no idea what they’re talking about, all you have to say is: “I’m not familiar with that term, and I want to be sure I understand. Can you fill me in?”
Because ultimately, a commitment to understanding—not a pair of rainbow sweatpants—is how you show your true colors.