Brand Strategy

Corporate Pride is quieter this year. Why that matters

“If [companies] don’t advocate for what’s right, for the freedoms we think democracy should espouse, then they become part of the problem,” Ron Hill, a professor at American University, told us.
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Francis Scialabba

5 min read

If you think corporate participation in Pride Month has felt more subdued this year, it’s not just you.

Brands that were more outspoken in previous years have been quieter in 2024 around their support of LGBTQ+ causes and customers, which some have suggested could be due to fears stemming from last year’s Bud Light backlash and other targeted, right-wing campaigns against companies supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

Target, which also faced right-wing backlash over its Pride merch collection last year, scaled back its offerings this year. Skittles, which faced threats of a boycott over its Pride marketing in 2023, is doing a Pride campaign that’s been characterized as more muted than in years past. Kayla Castañeda, senior director for crisis and issues communications at Target, shared a statement that the company is “committed to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month and year-round;” Skittles did not respond to Marketing Brew’s request for comment.

It’s not just the merch that’s taking a hit: The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ suicide prevention and crisis intervention nonprofit, has seen a “decline in corporate giving in the last couple of years,” Kevin Wong, senior VP of marketing, communications, and content, told us. While he noted that “fundraising is generally down for many nonprofits,” he added that in a good year, “less than 1% of philanthropic giving in the US is routed to LGBTQ+ issues.”

All’s not entirely quiet on the Pride front, however. The Trevor Project is working with brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, OPI, Kate Spade, Lululemon, and Macy’s on Pride-related campaigns this year—some of which, like Macy’s, are part of yearslong partnerships. There are other efforts to support the community that go beyond marketing: American Eagle, for example, released a gender-neutral clothing collection for Pride that will be available year-round

“We have always uplifted the LGBTQIA+ community and will continue to do so through Pride collections that enable our customers to show their support,” Craig Brommers, CMO of American Eagle, told us in an email, adding that “celebrating Pride is a natural extension of what we do every day.”

As right-wing attacks on the LGBTQ+ community escalate, experts told us that loud and visible corporate participation in Pride remains important not just for a company’s image, but also for society at large.

Be seen

Perhaps the biggest reason why corporate allyship matters is LGBTQ+ visibility, Wong told us, particularly as anti-LGBTQ+ legislation may cause young people to question their place in the world. “When LGBTQ+ people see themselves reflected in the world…that really enables them and empowers them to live their truth,” he said.

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As part of The Trevor Project’s Pride campaign with Macy’s this year, the retailer is highlighting LGBTQ+-owned, -founded, and -designed brands, as well as showing LGBTQ+ young people’s experiences in a PSA.

Wong noted the impact of being able to “walk into a Macy’s store and say, ‘Wow, I feel like I belong here and my identity and who I am in living my truth is supported.’” He added that using Macy’s platform can also make an impact beyond its shoppers.

“Sometimes a policymaker or someone in a position of power might be introducing legislation around LGBTQ+ identities or people and they don’t actually talk to that community…about how a piece of legislation might impact them,” he said. “Using real LGBTQ+ young people [in the campaign] is so important in reflecting their experiences back.”

That reflection is important not just during Pride month, but year-round, Wong said, citing The Trevor Project’s long-term partnerships with Abercrombie & Fitch and the NFL.

Be loud

Brands that shift from outspoken Pride campaigns to a “silent” or “soft sell” may still risk alienating some consumers while also missing out on an opportunity to show the LGBTQ+ community that they’re “doing something important for them,” Ron Hill, a professor of marketing at American University’s Kogod School of Business, told us.

Hill attributed muted Pride campaigns this year to a “value confusion” among some companies who may want to try to appeal to everyone.

In recent years, accusations of “rainbow-washing” and criticisms of “rainbow capitalism” have surfaced, with claims that some brands use Pride as a more surface-level means to appeal to certain consumer sets. But Hill suggested that “it’s better to be wrong to some people and right to other people than to be wrong to everybody.”

In other words, by not taking a stance on Pride, companies “end up becoming vanilla” and can lose credibility, he said.

Hill suggested that “longer term, companies need to decide what their overarching values are and to live those values.” If they don’t, he said they risk losing customers on both sides of the aisle, as well as potentially losing relevance, especially given younger generations’ progressive stances on gender and sexuality.

“Organizations are a big part of our culture and companies are a big part of organizations,” Hill said. “If they don’t advocate for what’s right, for the freedoms we think democracy should espouse, then they become part of the problem.”

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