Do LGBTQ and Pride-Themed Ads Promote Inclusion or Sales?

Marian Daniells

Vice President

Ah, June. Sunshine, summer, and all things LGTBQ #pride. After all, Manhattan—where we’re HQ’d—is home to the 1969 Stonewall Riots (the origin of Pride Month) and a notoriously inclusive hub for people from nearly every sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender. So it only makes sense brands follow suit, doesn’t it?

From Oreo’s rainbow-stuffed cookie ad, to Dorito’s “There’s Nothing Bolder Than Being Yourself” tagline and multi-colored chips, and Chobani’s “Love This Life” commercial, some of America’s most reputable and profitable brands are finally speaking to the LGBTQ community. And we’re thrilled about that. Vested is a place that prides itself on its staff’s diversity across a multitude of factors, and believe it’s about damn time that corporations acknowledge and include all types of people in their marketing.

However, we can’t help but raise our (rainbow) flag when it comes to what feels like capitalizing on a previously marginalized group of individuals. The LGBTQ community has been forced to live in the shadows until recently, and is still marginalized especially in places that aren’t New York.

Shortly after former President Obama’s trans-friendly policies—like part of the Affordable Care Act that banned healthcare discrimination based on sexual orientation, and ramped up protections for transgender individuals—took place, and the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal, the country’s attitude towards the once-shunned group shifted. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, 63 percent of Americans said LGBT adults should be accepted by society, compared to just 51 percent in 2006.

Not-so-coincidentally, brands like the aforementioned Oreo, Doritos, McDonald’s and Coke jumped on the gay bandwagon. In turn, companies have raised a few eyebrows about whether the move was truly about inclusion or convenience, considering LGBTQ customers reportedly represent an estimated buying power of $917 billion—6.8 percent of total US buying power.

“…I think the underlying message is that these brands are now feeling like it’s safe and less risky to do this,” Jenn T. Grace, an LGBTQ business strategist, told Vice News last year. “The message it sends is ‘You weren’t important to us before when it was risky but now, only when it’s safe, we’re willing to put our neck out there and support this community.’ It could be that it’s the right thing to do all day long, but if it’s not making them money, they wouldn’t do it. Businesses are in business to make a profit,” she said.

So how does one judge a brand’s authenticity when it comes to inclusive marketing? The Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Equality Index (CEI) is a great place to start. CEI began in 2002 and rates American businesses based on their treatment of LGBTQ employees, consumers and investors. For example, consumers can see if a brand provides health insurance and benefits to trans people, or provides adequate training to highlight LGBTQ awareness and inclusion internally. It pulls back the metaphorical curtain and allows the public the ability to see if the ideology of diversity and inclusion is truly an integral part of the business, and not part of a marketing scheme to make a quick buck in June.

With that being said, there are plenty of companies that give us hope that their decisions to include the LGBTQ in their advertising comes from a place of progress rather than profit.

After North Carolina passed House-Bill 2, a law that rescinded all local LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies throughout the state, companies ran for the (northern) hills. Deutsche Bank halted its expansion plan that would’ve added 250 jobs to the area. Similarly, PayPal nixed its plan to open a new global payment center in Charlotte, which was expected to bring 400 new jobs to the city. Lionsgate also canceled an eight-day production shoot in response to the bill.

“We have a share of cynicism for LGBT-marketing, but what I’m impressed by is the number of brands who put their mouth where their marketing is,” Bob Witeck, President of Witeck Communications, the company that conducts analyses of LGBTQ buying power, told Vice.

This 2018 Pride Month, we encourage fellow New Yorkers and the rest of our readers to celebrate: buy the bag of rainbow chips; play that adorable iPhone commercial for your friends; “borrow” one of those awesome mock-MTA Pride Month posters. But, like any good party, do it responsibly and hold brands accountable.