Marketing Briefing: How a quieter Pride could serve as a ‘reset’ for marketers to be less ‘performative’

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Pride month marketing is seemingly at a whisper this year. 

While some brands are still participating in Pride, they aren’t using a loudspeaker to tout efforts like they had in years past. After last year’s backlash, for example, Target is one of the brands that has typically made a bigger push to promote its Pride efforts but is scaling back the footprint this year. Target is just one of a few corporations that seem to be reducing Pride efforts this year.

“Typically in early May we would see a ton of orders from different corporations looking to make something for their team but we’ve seen a massive reduction this year,” said Greg Kerr, founder of Alchemy Merch, a merch company that works on LGBTQ+ company initiatives creating things like pins for companies to distribute to employees. “I would say we’ve seen maybe 10% of the corporate orders come in compared to years’ past… The profit hit, it is what it is, it’s not a big deal. The bigger deal is seeing all these companies retract and pull back from doing anything at all [around Pride].”

Kerr isn’t alone in seeing a pullback of sorts from major corporations that had previously made Pride marketing an annual allocation in the marketing mix. Fewer marketers brought up Pride to agency execs who say that anecdotally it’s been noticeably quieter this year than in previous years, even last year. (Though, last year when the Bud Light backlash following the company’s work with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney began marketers would typically already have Pride plans sorted, according to agency execs, who noted that seeing the ongoing conservative pushback this year may have brands even more risk averse.)

“This year, amidst the risk of backlash and cancel culture, Pride seems to have been reduced to a whisper not a bang,” said Melissa Chapman, CEO of creator network Jungle Creations & The Wild by Jungle. “With the Bud Light fiasco still front of mind and fears of boycotts big enough to impact revenue even 12 months down the line, it feels that many brands have quietly packed away their rainbow flags and stashed them in the cupboard marked ‘too risky.’”

Being risk-averse is nothing new for marketers, especially in a time where budgets are continually squeezed. The reduced investment in Pride this year may be disappointing but not altogether surprising, according to agency execs, who cited last year’s backlash and tighter ad budgets this year as two reasons for the pullback. That this year is an election year, which typically has brands quieter and reducing ad spend ahead of the election could be another reason for the mum Pride, noted Lyndsey Fox, director of strategy at Pereira O’dell.

At the same time, previous splashy Pride efforts had been called into question with brands accused of rainbow-washing, and supporting the LGBTQ+ cause only in June. There was already a push from younger generations for brands to do more and show up more authentically at Pride, explained Aaron Hall, group director of naming, Siegel+Gale, a global brand experience firm, who added that this year’s pullback likely validates the accusations of rainbow-washing by younger consumers.

“You had some LGBT folks wanting more authenticity from the brands,” said Hall. “The term rainbow-washing pops up over a couple of years. Then you have two big anti-Pride [backlashes] pop up and the first thing those brands do [is pullback]. Now this year in response, a bunch of brands [seem to pull back] almost proving that some of them” weren’t authentic in their Pride efforts.

Younger generations have also pushed brands to not treat the LGBTQ+ community as a “monolith” noted Matt Kissane, global executive director at brand consultancy Landor, but to give back to the community.

Some hope that the pullback is part of a reevaluation of what Pride marketing should be for brands. “As a marketer, I think that everyone is trying to figure out the right approach,” said Evan Carpenter, a strategist at Mother. “The playbook has been thrown out the window of performative declarative pride, Rainbow-washing Pride campaigns. If I’m being optimistic, I hope we’re figuring out the right way to do it more meaningfully.”

“It’s disheartening to see fewer external campaigns, but this actually could be a good opportunity to do a reset,” said Chapman. “Some campaigns had lost sight of the original meaning and purpose of Pride and had become little more than a lip service exercise of rainbow bandwagon jumping. This year’s quieter Pride gives brands a chance to reflect and think about how they engage with the LGBTQ+ communities and other marginalized groups in a truly authentic and meaningful way.”

3 Questions with Ross McIntyre, global marketing manager, partnerships, Asahi Europe & International

Let’s talk about sports sponsorships. Many marketers use sponsorship of a sports team to help grow a brand. Asahi’s sponsored English soccer champions Manchester City since 2022. How do you measure the impact of that partnership?

Our partnership with Manchester City allows the brand to transcend to more consumption moments and supports an acceleration in key markets, via metrics around awareness, sentiment and product consideration and trial. We worked closely with Manchester City and our agency team at CSM (now Wasserman following the recent merger) to ensure all partnership related data laddered back up to our global brand tracking. This approach continues to allow the impact of the partnership to be highlighted and attributed to the wider measurement that we do as a brand.

Asahi’s a relative newcomer to the U.K. market. What results have you seen?

We have seen a significant impact and increase across key brand metrics, something which has been further enhanced following our move to official training kit partner of both the men’s and women’s team from the start of the 2023/24 season. The visibility of the brand on the training kit has acted as a key enabler for driving awareness, which we’ve seen grow in double digits amongst targeted Man City audiences in our key territories.

Men’s and women’s soccer tends to draw different crowds — do you measure the impact of sponsoring Manchester City’s women’s team differently to the men’s?

We take the same approach across both the men’s and women’s team. The training kit partnership see’s Asahi 0.0% feature on the front of all men’s and women’s first team training kits for the 2023/24 season, but also across content such as the AR filter training content featuring Demi Stokes. Whilst the audience demographics differ slightly, interest in women’s football continues to grow across our key markets and it’s a really exciting time for the game and we look forward to continue elevating fan experience around the world. — Sam Bradley

By the numbers

Advertisers have had an intense focus on Gen Z over the last few years, especially as the generation continues to come into the workforce, thus expanding their spending/buying power. In comparison to their predecessors, Gen Z has very different expectations of the brands they shop with a “keen awareness of marketing tactics and tropes,” according to a new report from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Acceleration Community of Companies (ACC), a network of marketing and communications agencies. See key findings from the study below:

  • When asked to rank their motivations for their last few non-essential purchases 21% of Gen Z ranked either validation/positive reviews by a peer, validation/positive reviews by influencers, or having seen it on a TikTok community or similar as their top motivation.
  • 54% believe social media is more about finding and engaging with communities and/or content tailored to their specific interests versus connecting with friends or sharing their lives online.
  • 58% of Gen Z said they would rather buy an item they’ve had their eye on than go on a trip (42%) if they were to receive a surprise reward. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“The challenge is now we’re back to the status quo of making money, ROI, KPIs.”

— Kai Deveraux Lawson, an independent culture and operations leader, when asked about agencies and brands retrenchment from DE&I commitments made in 2020.

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