What marketers can learn from Dolly Parton about connecting with LGBTQ+ consumers

With the rainbow parade in full effect, here are tips for a more authentic approach to pride marketing.

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."

Dolly Parton was probably referring to persevering during tough times when she said these words, but she might as well have been speaking to brands and ad agencies about how to engage with their LGBTQ+ audiences. It’s the second week of June and we’ve already seen a handful of brands slap a rainbow flag onto their packaging to show their support during Pride Month. But is it a genuine show of support or an opportunity to capitalize on a marginalized community for corporate gain?

While I’m in awe of the sheer number of brands publicly offering support today compared to 10 or 20 years ago, I sometimes find myself questioning the authenticity behind most brands’ marketing efforts. Brands and ad agencies would do well to keep Dolly’s wise words in mind as they engage with LGBTQ+ consumers during Pride. With the rainbow parade in full effect, here are some tips for a more authentic approach to pride marketing.

1. Stick to your brand’s stated purpose.

Mrs. Parton once said, "Find out who you are and do it on purpose." In other words, don’t celebrate Pride for Pride’s sake. It may not be right for every brand, and that’s okay! Not celebrating Pride doesn’t make you anti-LGBTQ+. Brands that get it right are grounded in their purpose and able to filter their support for the community through their entire company. If you aren’t able to do that, and you run a campaign anyway, you run the risk of backlash and a PR nightmare.

For example, Budweiser UK came out with its "Fly the Flag" campaign, which includes the release of special edition cups decorated with different flags from the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a nice effort to recognize complexity in this space, but when you recall that Budweiser was also a proud sponsor of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a country that supports anti-gay propaganda laws, it falls a bit flat. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Be a supporter 365 days a year.  

If you go all out for Pride, then your marketing efforts should speak to LGBTQ+ consumers all year long. That means working with LGBTQ+ business owners, nonprofits, and artists — and refusing to work with organizations or countries that uphold anti-LGBTQ+ positions and laws. This also means celebrating other LGBTQ+ awareness days, such as National Coming Out Day or International Transgender Day of Visibility. If you’re not supporting and advocating for the entire community every month, don’t chime in during June.

3. Cast a wider net.

Think bigger than gay. Think bigger than gender. Think bigger than race. Pride month isn’t just about celebrating gay pride. Lest we forget that two Black and Latinx transgender women, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, practically ignited the Gay Liberation Movement at the Stonewall riots? The LGBTQ+ community is so rich in intersectionality that diversity needs to be smartly considered and celebrated when targeting us.

4. Give LGBTQ+ people a seat at the table.

There’s no doubt you’ve heard that inclusivity matters in marketing. If you’re going to create a campaign in celebration of our community, don’t assign a team of predominantly straight, cisgender people to develop the idea. Partner with queer people from ideation to production and pay them accordingly. If you’re casting queer talent in front of the camera, be sure to hire queer people to work behind the scenes as well. If you want to find queer talent across production disciplines, check out GrowYourCircle.org, a digital tool that gives access to many underrepresented entrepreneurs, like those who come from diverse backgrounds, live with a disability or identify as LGBTQ+.

Who does it right?

For a recent example of how to get Pride marketing right, look to Ikea. It gives 100% of the profits from its rainbow shopping bag to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which supports LGBTQ+ children, youth and families. The company is no stranger to advocating for this community — it was one of the first brands to show a queer couple on television in 1994.

Earlier this year, Ralph Lauren unveiled a new campaign that featured a same-sex couple for the first time in the brand’s 52-year history. While some might say that they were a bit late to the game, Ralph Lauren has helped raise funds and awareness on many LGBTQ+ causes including HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. The brand followed up their support by releasing a Pride-themed collection featuring a diverse cast of LGBTQ+ faces. Proceeds from the collection will go to the Stonewall Community Foundation.

Final thoughts.

Pride month is so much more than the rainbow flag, parties and parades. It’s a time to recognize how far we still have to go and the injustices the community continues to face. The brands that get this right know that Pride month is not about them. It’s about the LGBTQ+ community’s long history and visibility in society. Only then can we be true to Dolly’s wisdom and "be rich in spirit, kindness, love and all those things that you can't put a dollar sign on."

Danny Hernandez is the director of communications and PR at Forsman & Bodenfors.

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