This June is looking a little less rainbow-colored than previous Pride Months.
After years of brands voicing their allegiance to the LGBTQ+ community through distinctive ad campaigns, packaging and events, conservative activism is leading several to sit on the sidelines (or at least not promote their campaigns through press releases and announcements). In the wake of Bud Light receiving backlash for partnering with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, many companies seem to be holding back for fear of finding themselves in the middle of a culture war.
Those concerns are not entirely unfounded. Target, North Face and Adidas have all encountered backlash in the weeks running up to Pride Month for featuring trans-friendly summer clothing in their advertising and merchandising. Some conservative activists are unearthing months- and years-old advertising campaigns in their zeal to raise Cain.
According to a recent study from Collage Group, a majority (61%) of LGBTQ+ consumers believe either all or select brands should be involved in celebrating Pride Month. Another 29% are indifferent to brands’ involvement. Comparatively, 88% of non-LGBTQ+ consumers are either in support of brands’ Pride Month involvement or are indifferent to it, according to the study. The implication: acknowledging Pride Month through marketing is not likely to result in a large backlash.
Perhaps accordingly, several companies are forging ahead. Procter & Gamble has signed on as a presenting sponsor of IHeartMedia’s fourth “Can’t Cancel Pride” concert event. The event, which will take place at the IHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles and remote locations around the country, will be streamed on IHeartMedia’s YouTube channel.
The “Can’t Cancel Pride” concert began during the COVID-19 pandemic as Pride events were canceled around the world. The concert series has raised more than $11 million for LGBTQ organizations including GLAAD, The Trevor Project, National Black Justice Coalition, SAGE, CenterLink and OutRight Action International. This year’s program will “focus on the achievements of the past, the urgency of the present moment and hope for the future,” according to a release.
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, meanwhile, is bringing back its “BrunchOUT” annual drag brunches. The series of events, which feature performances by national and local drag queens throughout the U.S., kicks off in June in Nashville. BrunchOUT proceeds will support The Trevor Project, which aims to prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ young people.
“Since Kimpton’s inception, we have supported the LGBTQ+ community and created spaces where people can not only gather and connect, but also feel comfortable and embraced for being their most authentic selves,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, SVP of Marketing and Commercial for IHG Luxury & Lifestyle Americas and Kimpton Global, in a statement.
Among food brands, Noodles & Company is bringing back a Pride-themed, rainbow rice crispy dessert. Packaging on the dessert will include a QR code leading consumers to information about LGBTQ+ history and other facts. The company is also encouraging LGBTQ+ customers to submit photos that the brand can share on its Instagram stories. (Noodles & Co. has also pledged to donate up to $30,000 to Out & Equal, which advocates for LGBTQ+ workplace equality.)
Jones Soda will adorn its bottles with a collection of Pride-themed labels created by LGBTQ artists. In addition, the artists will share their art and stories through an Augmented Reality code.
“We have always had a passion for people, creativity, and our community at Jones. It’s reflected on our labels every day,” said Curt Thompson, director of marketing at Jones, in a release. “The Pride community has been part of who we are this since our early days as a company. We are thrilled to feature content on our packaging where we can celebrate Pride through stories and art all summer long.”
LGBTQ activists are quick to point out that their community needs corporate allegiance more than ever. The ACLU has identified more than 400 pieces of legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights – particularly those of transgender minors – have been introduced in state legislatures this year.
Regardless, this year’s generally muted marketing will not do much to head off the accusations that many brands have been performatively “rainbow-washing” with their Pride Month marketing efforts in previous years … or in future years, should the marketers re-engage with the celebration.