At the beginning of summer, my friends and I joined the millions of other people parading the streets of Lower Manhattan to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month. Everywhere I looked, I was met with brands that pulled out all of the stops, from Stoli’s Harvey Milk-themed vodka to Spotify’s rainbow-colored features. Dozens of companies joined in, often donating a percentage of proceeds to increase awareness for LGBTQ+ causes.
But Pride Month ended just over a month ago, and in that time, this flood of images -- across advertisements, t-shirts, and social media -- featuring rainbows, gay couples, transgender models, and more have slowed to a trickle. The emphasis on diverse representation during that moment in time was wonderful to see, but it’s not enough.
As advertisers and marketers, we’ve allowed our brands to fall into the habit of rallying around marginalized communities during a specific month or day when we know the world will be watching -- we can say we did something good, and then after a few weeks, it’s back to business as usual. But more and more, savvy consumers aren’t buying it -- regardless of any good intention behind these one-off campaigns, they still come across as inauthentic and opportunistic. Long term, that puts our bottom lines, hiring initiatives, and maybe more importantly, brand reputations and integrity, at risk.
According to a survey by Ogilvy, nearly half of Americans and 64 percent of those who identify as LGBT allies say they are more likely to spend money with brands that are LGBT inclusive. And a poll by INTO showed that more than 70 percent of respondents agreed that a brand’s reputation as being LGBTQ friendly (or not) has directly influenced their purchasing decisions.
The premise is simple: if you want your brand to resonate with the LGBTQ+ community, the LGBTQ+ community must be integrated into your mission, values, and point of view in a way that’s deeper than surface-level and longer than a single moment in time. A holistic mission will translate into campaigns that feel true to your brand and create lasting connections with consumers.
Take Suitsupply, for example. This past February, the Dutch men’s suit company launched "Find Your Perfect Fit" -- a menswear campaign that featured male couples holding hands and kissing in a variety of jackets and trousers. At first, it seemed the public responded poorly; in the hours following the launch, the company lost nearly 12,000 Instagram followers who felt negatively about the photos and ads.
While it’s easy to take those lost followers as a sign that the broader public is not ready for diverse campaigns, the results of the campaign tell another story. Among Suitsupply’s core audience of 18 to 29-year-old consumers -- largely fervent advocates for equality and representation -- there was increased revenue growth, leading to international expansion of hiring and new store efforts. These numbers point to a future where consumers put their money where their values are.
The same holds true across other minority or underrepresented communities. Old Navy initially received backlash after its multiracial families campaign back in 2016, only to be supported by thousands of diverse families on Twitter using the #LoveWins hashtag. After eliminating retouched photos through their Aerie Real campaign, the lingerie brand had to prove to consumers that bodily ‘imperfections,’ like disabilities, are beautiful -- in the few years since the launch, the brand has gained hundreds of thousands of new Instagram followers and is nearing a one-billion-dollar valuation. While these campaigns were not tied to a particular moment in time, their impact can be attributed to the brand’s mission, which connected with key consumers.
This type of positive feedback stems from brands highlighting diverse imagery persistently, not just when it’s convenient to be tolerant and progressive. It’s also not solely about public-facing ad campaigns -- like consumers, employees also respond to a company with a strong mission. Only one year after Hewlett-Packard set a global hiring initiative to increase diversity in its ad agencies’ senior level positions, the company saw a six-point increase in consumers’ likelihood to purchase from their brands. Diverse staffs create more diverse, authentic content that appeals to a wider variety of people.
More broadly, there is an increasing demand for imagery that’s representative of traditionally marginalized communities, specifically those that identify as LGBTQ+. We see this here at Getty Images, where myself and a team of creative ‘anthropologists’ analyze our search platform data, shifts in pop culture, and advertising patterns to identify trends that will influence visual culture.
In our customers’ one billion searches last year, terms like ‘transgender couple,’ ‘LGBT family,’ and ‘gender fluid’ increased 150 percent, 29 percent, and 214 percent, respectively, which are positive indicators of where the industry may be trending. But as we’ve seen in how quickly the rainbows have disappeared in the weeks since Pride Month ended in June, the growing appetite for more inclusive imagery does not always translate into what consumers see everyday.
Next year, World Pride will be celebrated in New York City to mark the 50th anniversary of the pivotal Stonewall uprising. Representation has come a long way since then, as exemplified by the countless Pride-themed ads, storefronts, clothing, and campaigns that I will undoubtedly encounter when I attend next summer.
But as creative leaders, we have an opportunity to create a visual environment that accurately, meaningfully represents the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community year-round. What are we waiting for?
Tristen Norman is the head of creative insights and planning at Getty Images.