LGBTQ+ Advertising in the Age of Accountability

How marketers can deliver authentic brand experiences during Pride Month and beyond

Pride Month (June) is nearly upon us. It’s an annual celebration and a commemoration of the LGBTQ+ community that began after the Stonewall riots which started the community’s mobilization for human rights and equality. 

In June, many brands showcase their support for the LGBTQ+ community with rainbow-hued logos, social media posts, participation in Pride parades and other events, Pride-themed products, and ads featuring same-sex couples. No doubt, these efforts have increased LGBTQ+ visibility. But… are they a reliable indicator of authentic allyship and community support? Or do consumers see these efforts as just another tactic to boost PR and sales? These are important questions to answer given that brand purpose is an important element of brand experience overall. 

DISQO has partnered with Do the WeRQ for four years (and counting) to answer these questions and more. We’ve examined consumers’ recall and receptivity to LGBTQ+ advertising and their expectations for brands to promote social justice. Our 2023 report also looked at boycotting and “wokeness,” and revealed how deeply interwoven purchase decisions are with today’s culture wars. 

This year, DISQO and Do the WeRQ set out to learn what role consumers feel brands should play during Pride Month. Our new report, LGBTQ+ Advertising and Brand Experience, will be out later this month. As a pre-read, following are key takeaways from our past research that suggest how brands can demonstrate authentic purpose-led marketing with the community.

Do consumers care about brand purpose?

There have been many recent debates over the efficacy of purpose-led marketing. As detailed in our Consumer Trends 2024 report, only 21% of consumers said social responsibility impacts their perception of a brand, far behind value for money spent (67%), quality (63%), and a trustworthy reputation (53%). However, this is a complex topic. While few brands may win customers and loyalty based on their values, fewer can afford to be called out for perceived failures in caring for their customers, employees, and communities. 

2023 was a testament to the nuances of this debate. Brands like Bud Light, Target, Disney, Lego, and North Face faced backlash from vocal consumers due to their support for Pride month and LGBTQ+ rights. Backtracking proved to be a bad move for some, alienating people on both sides of the issues. Forty-two percent (42%) of consumers said they immediately stop purchasing from a brand when it goes back on a social stance, per our 2023 report. Interestingly, we found that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to stick with a brand that backtracks on their commitments, perhaps signaling that they are already skeptical about the authenticity of brands’ commitments during Pride and beyond.

How can brands resonate with consumers through LGBTQ+ advertising?

Our data-driven insights suggest how brands can effectively champion their authentic brand purpose through LGBTQ+ advertising.

1. Don’t limit LGBTQ+ advertising to June.

Compared to the year prior (June 2022), last year’s survey conducted in May shows a drastic difference in recall of LGBTQ+ representation in advertising (-23 points). This suggests that LGBTQ+ ads are not sufficiently prioritized outside of June. Even among LGBTQ+ people, there is a 12-point difference. Consumers, regardless of whether they identify as a member of the community or not, notice inconsistent LGBTQ+ marketing, which can drive scrutiny over the authenticity of purpose-led initiatives.

Brands need to go beyond the confines of Pride Month. Showing up 365 days a year is important for brands to deliver resonant LGBTQ+ advertising. A steady cadence of inclusive content will show customers that your brand is not just hopping on the bandwagon and that it believes in driving the community’s mainstream visibility.

2. Champion authenticity in LGBTQ+ advertising development and delivery.

Our 2023 results showed that perceptions of authenticity for LGBTQ+ ads were down sharply from the prior year. People were far less likely to agree with the statement, “Ads with or about LGBTQ+ people feel authentic.” Interestingly, these changes were largely driven by non-LGBTQ+ audiences. It’s no doubt palpable to them that they’re exposed to inclusive ads for only one month out of the year. This further underscores the need for brands to better normalize inclusion.

How can brands move LGBTQ+ advertising beyond niche, seasonal strategies? One way is by ensuring the work and creative teams reflect the people in them. Maintaining an open dialogue with your customers to understand not only what they stand for, but also what they expect from brands is just one piece of the puzzle. Embedding representation into brand development and creative ideation is another step toward authenticity.

3. Understand the risks and the rewards of leading with brand purpose.

Cancel culture, contentious social media debates, and threats of in-store violence made it clear last year that consumers will speak up and act out… whether in approval or dissent. So, it’s not all that surprising that some brands chose to evade social justice topics altogether. There is a tremendous risk for brands taking a half-hearted stance on LGBTQ+ rights and other divisive topics. But as our study partners at Do the WeRQ so eloquently put it, “We’re not calling for advertisers to become political entities, but we do ask for the industry to get real about how political culture is impacting our work.” Evading or retracting are no longer options.

LGBTQ+ people are the fastest growing minority group in the US. And 65% of them think more positively of “woke” brands. There’s an opportunity for marketers to take note of the very public missteps we have witnessed to deliver more authentic brand experiences. In turn, they will reap the benefits of reaching the LGBTQ+ community and fuel greater brand growth.

Stay tuned for more brand experience and LGBTQ+ advertising insights!

DISQO and Do the WeRQ’s new report will be here before you know it. Learn how recall and receptivity have changed over the last year, and delve deeper into exactly what role consumers expect brands to play during Pride and beyond. 

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