6 Points for Brands to Remember during Pride Month

People stand underneath a giant rainbow flag in this image for a blog about five things brands should remember during Pride Month.
People stand underneath a giant rainbow flag in this image for a blog about five things brands should remember during Pride Month.

Pride Month 2022 is upon us, and the only things more ubiquitous than rainbows are discussions of the meaning and power behind the month-long holiday. Beginning with the first Gay Pride march in New York City in 1970, an explicitly political event commemorating the Stonewall Riots a year earlier, Pride Month has since become a global celebration of LGBTQ+ communities, culture, and history.

As the holiday has grown, more businesses and corporations have come to mark it with special marketing campaigns, limited-edition product lines, and representation in local Pride marches. But these efforts haven’t always appropriately honored the social and political gravity of the celebration. Every year, a large subset of Pride marketing's target audiences — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people and their allies — speak out against its corporatization.

Brands, companies, and corporations have much to learn from their audiences and customers when it comes to how to approach Pride with self-awareness and tact. We analyzed thousands of online conversations and content about Pride marketing for insight on what brands should consider for this Pride Month and the ones to come.

Table of Contents

1. Consumers anticipate Pride Month marketing

When Millennials were kids (and Gen-Z was non-existent), companies and brands generally didn’t observe Pride Month to the extent they do today. A turning point came in 1994. That year, IKEA debuted the first American TV commercial to feature a gay couple and a major consumer attitudes study highlighted the gay and lesbian consumer base for the first time.

Fast forward to today, consumers are more than just used to Pride Month marketing. They hotly anticipate it. Across channels, mentions of Pride and mentions of brands, companies, and corporations started to soar on May 31. 

A screenshot of search on the Explore platform for mentions of brands, companies, corporations, and Pride Month.

2. Many are also wary of Pride month marketing

As talk of Pride marketing rose, so did mentions of rainbow-washing, a term used to describe the hollow and sometimes outright hypocritical ways companies market to LGBTQ+ consumers in June.

A screenshot of a line graph showing mentions of "rainbow-washing" peaking on June 1.

This reflects audiences’ familiarity with Pride marketing and their frustrations with how consumerism has come to dominate the commemorative month.

In the last week of May, one of the most retweeted tweets about brands and Pride poked fun at the idea that the month has become more about marketing than honoring the 1969 Stonewall riots. It reached 454,000 people in one day.

Meanwhile, the piece of content that garnered the most engagement in that period was a TikTok explaining what rainbow-washing is.

As this Twitter keyword cloud shows — with the words corporations, rainbow capitalism, and logos looming large alongside legislation, crowdfunding goals, and community — consumers are discussing the disconnect between Pride marketing and their values.

A keyword cloud from the Explore platform shows the word "corporations" largest in darkest blue, surrounded by smaller, lighter blue words including rainbow capitalism, logos, legislation, crowdfunding goals, and community.

Does this mean you should trash your rainbow logo? No! But as conversations about Pride marketing continue throughout the month, pay attention. These comments, posts, and tweets offer clues to what your audience values most.

3. LGBTQ+ audiences care about real-life issues

Speaking of what your audience values most, let’s look at popular hashtags. The last week of May, #pride and #pridemonth were understandably the two most popular Pride- and brands-related hashtag on Twitter. But, not far behind in third place was #dontsaygay, which beat out both #pride2022 and #pridemonth2022.

A bar graph showing the top hashtags used in Twitter conversations about Pride Month and brands: #pride, #pridemonth, #dontsaygay, #pridemonth2022, #pride2022, #lgbtq.

This year, many are using the month-long celebration of LGBTQ+ resistance and resilience to rally support against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, including Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and many others like it in the United States. 

Not every brand needs to, or should, position itself as an authority on LGBTQ+ issues during Pride month. But any doing Pride-specific marketing owes it to its audience to be knowledgeable about the civil rights threats LGBTQ+ communities face today.

4. Pride is an opportunity to pass the mic

On Twitter, the most blistering criticism comes in the form of jokes and memes. On June 1, one joke format in particular became the go-to for critiques of Pride marketing. 

Skewering ad campaigns of Prides past with the phrase “that’s why this Pride month, I’m partnering with,” these tweets highlight corporate attempts to shoehorn brand ambassadors’ lived experiences of marginalization and oppression into marketing content. The below tweet reached more than 24,000 people in one day and helped inspire numerous other twists on the joke.

Beneath the punchlines is very real exasperation with how companies position lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual people and their traumas in campaigns. At the same time, audiences want brands that engage in Pride marketing to also engage in efforts that benefit LGBTQ+ communities. 

Other than cash donations, the best thing brands can offer LGBTQ+ activists, change-makers, and leaders are their platforms and resources. Hiring LGBTQ+ creators and shining a spotlight on community events and organizations is one way to start. Most importantly, let whomever you collaborate with lead the direction of the campaign and compensate them fairly. Otherwise, you might find yourself being the central focus of a viral meme next year.

Along with marketing, audiences also spent the first day of Pride discussing how to wield collective effort and consumer power for change.

A line graph showing the similar rise and fall of conversations about brands and support around the beginning of Pride Month.

Many people in the target audiences for Pride marketing are eager to support small businesses and organizations led by members of the LGBTQ+ community. If that doesn’t include you, this is a great time to help someone else shine.

5. Pride is an opportunity for transparency

Is the company behind your brand a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual people? Does it put its money and resources behind the values it markets during Pride Month? In many ways, June is an opportunity for LGBTQ+ communities to look back on their legacies of resistance and take stock of where they are today. The same can be true for institutions, organizations, and businesses. What strides can you celebrate and in what ways are you not doing enough?

On the flipside, if your Pride Month marketing has nothing to back it up, don’t be surprised if people start asking questions online. As eager as consumers are for information on where to spend their money, they are also eager to learn where not to. Another much-retweeted statement came from left-wing think tank Data for Progress promoting its report on the companies that fund anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States. Two May 26 tweets reached more than 156,000 people in less than a week.

6. Businesses observing Pride Month is still significant

As we've covered, the week of June 1 featured thousands of prominent and far-reaching conversations and pieces of content with funny, thoughtful, critical, and positive statements and observations about Pride Month marketing. And like the below TikTok, which garnered the most engagement across channels in that time period, they are generally pro-LGBTQ+ rights and representation.

At the same time, one of the pieces of content that received the most engagement across channels was a homophobic and transphobic call for people to stop supporting businesses that celebrate Pride. Some of the more than 46,900 people who engaged with the tweet were critical of its message, but the vast majority liked and/or retweeted it without comment.

In the United States, the number of major businesses that publicly oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has grown steadily over the past few years. Still, proposed laws attacking protecting access to healthcare and freedom from discrimination at work, in school, and in public continue to gain ground.

What’s clear is audiences aren’t passively consuming feel-good Pride content. As they’ve gotten used to branded shows of support for LGBTQ+ communities, they’ve also become more critical and thoughtful of the impact that marketing can have. As a general rule, whatever Pride initiatives your organization takes, start from a place of intentionality, informedness, and community-mindedness. Your efforts and outputs have more potential for positive, or negative, impact than you may think!