As some brands shy away from LGBTQ+ campaigns because of boycotts, others, including Glamour and The North Face, are embracing the community for Pride Month despite the potential backlash.
For years, brands have honored Pride Month with LGTBQ+-friendly campaigns and sponsorships. But, Pride Month is coming on the heels of a successful boycott of Bud Light that sparked a significant drop in sales and the company’s stock price and Target‘s removal of some LGBTQ+ items from stores. It’s made all brands susceptible to a boycott and left them to make a significant choice about the company’s values at a pivotal moment.
For its June cover story, which was released on Thursday, Glamour UK published an unflinching profile of author Logan Brown discussing his anxieties over navigating his status as a pregnant, transgender male.
In the article, Brown explains that he got pregnant when he took a break from taking testosterone for health reasons and that he felt like his manlihood was “erased” when he found out he was pregnant. Eventually, Brown said he embraced the pregnancy, knowing that it was “really special” to have an opportunity as a queer couple to have a baby that’s biologically their own.
“When we first met Logan and heard his incredible story, we were blown away by his strength and courage. We knew he would be the perfect cover star for our June Pride issue, as a shining example of empowerment, inclusivity and equality,” Deborah Joseph, Glamour‘s European Editorial Director told The Independent.
The cover sparked backlash online and calls from Americans who can’t even access copies of the magazine stateside to boycott the magazine, with some people calling out the ability of a transgender man to get pregnant and others comparing it to older covers that featured cisgender women.
Glamour’s far from the only brand to be the subject of a boycott. Adidas came under heavy scrutiny for a swimsuit ad with male-presenting models and The North Face was criticized for an ad that featured environmentalist and drag queen Pattie Gonia. In the ad, Pattie Gonia encourages people to “come out” in the woods and promotes a summer-long Pride initiative. Both companies stood by their campaigns and The North Face was quick to shut down calls for them to reverse course or apologize.
“We recognize the opportunity our brand has to shape the future of the outdoors and we want that future to be a more accepting and loving place,” North Face said in a statement hours after the backlash began.
Walmart—one of America’s most-recognized brand names—is also standing by its plans for Pride. On Wednesday, the company said it isn’t changing its LGBTQ-related merchandise. Stores featured Pride-themed displays and Walmart had approximately 252 different pieces of Pride-themed merchandise available on its website at the time of publication.
By 2019, the LGBTQ community was not only a sought-after demographic but an integral one for brands to connect with. A trend had developed where brands had begun catering to the LGTBQ community despite the risk to their brand and political relationships, according to Jessica Shortall, a business strategy consultant at the R Street Institute. In a 2019 article for the Harvard Business Review, Shortall said brands were embracing the LGBTQ+ community as part of a long-term strategy.
Demographers estimate Millennials and members of Generation Z will constitute the majority of the voting-age population by 2028 and their values will likely dictate the marketplaces of the future.
At the time Shortall’s article was published, an estimated 67 percent of young adults in the U.S. did not believe small business owners should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ people for religious reasons, compared to 60 percent of Americans overall and 53 percent of senior citizens, according to PRRI. Pew Research found that millennials also constituted the largest group in the U.S. workforce, with their values essential not only to companies’ ability to recruit candidates to fill open jobs but also to their brand and consumer strategies.
Rather than tailoring their messaging to an aging demographic—which inherently leans conservative—business interests instead focused their attention where the money was.
“LGBTQ inclusion is good for the economy, and as more and more businesses make this connection, they are stepping forward to make the economic case for non-discrimination protections and against discriminatory laws,” Shortall wrote.
But Marcus Collins —a former marketing executive who previously led major campaigns for companies like Budweiser, McDonalds, and the Brooklyn Nets—also cautioned that with that trade-off comes responsibility. To benefit from the upsides of embracing the LGBTQ community and its allies, you must also be willing to stand by them when things get difficult. Failure to do so, he said, risks consumers growing apathetic to your brand, or even disdainful.
“If you don’t want the responsibility, then just be a beer brand,” said Collins. “And that’s totally fine. You just don’t benefit from all of the things that come with the cultural association. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. In those cases, when you’re not consistent or convicted, people just become very apathetic and lukewarm on you.”
Anheuser-Bush was among the first major beer brands to jump on the trend of LGBTQ+ marketing when it ran advertising in magazines catering to the gay community in the mid-1990s. The company continued that support in the decades since but is now at the center of a successful boycott because of that support.
Bud Light is suffering a significant drop in sales after sending transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney a custom beer can in April this year to celebrate her one-year anniversary as a woman. The company’s had to offer rebates to try to boost sales and executives have tried to distance the brand from Mulvaney.
While only an estimated 8 percent of the national adult population consider themselves members of the LGBTQ community, new survey data released by LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD on Monday found roughly three-quarters of all non-LGBTQ Americans said they felt comfortable seeing LGBTQ people in advertisements. A separate survey from GLAAD and the Edelman Trust Institute in December found non-LGBTQ Americans are twice as likely to buy or use a brand if that brand publicly supports a commitment to expanding and protecting LGBTQ rights.
“GLAAD’s research concludes that non-LGBTQ people believe companies should publicly support our community through hiring practices and advertising,” the group wrote in the report’s conclusion.
For brands seeking to cater to the LGBTQ community, the best long-term strategy is to hold the course. Even if short-term pain is involved, Collins said, the long-term gains are oftentimes more than worthwhile as long as you stick to the values that got you there.
“We need to have convictions and believe in something, even if that means even if there is the threat of backlash or boycotts,” Collins said. ” If you’re not convicted to it, ‘all good, just stay away.’ But if you say you are and don’t walk the walk, even in the throes of pushback, then people who thought you were their ally will be disappointed with you. And at that time, you’re gonna be ‘meh’ to everyone.”
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