Socially responsible marketing is very much embedded in providing support for our communities. It should accurately reflect the differences and similarities we share. It should also be something that is demonstrated and visible.
This is particularly relevant at the moment since Pride Month has recently taken place in Ireland. Every June it is a series of events celebrating love and friendship. It is also focused on highlighting the inequalities that unfortunately are still being experienced by LGBTQIA+ in our society.
The number of brands showing their support during Pride month has been increasing year on year. This is reassuring but there is an opportunity for more companies to look beyond pride. This includes adopting a consistent and long-term socially conscious marketing strategy.
- Pride Month Background.
- The Role of Socially Responsible Marketing.
- What can we, as marketers and brands, do to be more socially responsible?
- Examples of Socially Responsible Marketing Campaigns.
- Marketing Best Practice.
Pride Month Background
To help provide context for this discussion, it is useful to understand why June is significant for Pride Month.
June is a key date as this was when the Stonewall riots took place in the US, 1969. During this time, The Stonewall Inn (New York) was continually being raided by police. After the second one in a week, a series of riots broke out. These were organised to protest against the brutality and civil rights injustices that gay communities were being subjected to.
The event captured public and indeed global interest. The following month the first official march took place with the purpose of bringing further attention to the continuous discrimination.
In terms of beginning to address some of the inequalities, it was in 1972 when the UK hosted its first Pride festival. Decades later same-sex marriages were legalised in England and Wales (2013). While in 2015, Ireland legalised same sex marriages in a referendum that took place 22nd May. However, it was only in 2020 that the Supreme Court, in the US, made it illegal to dismiss an employee on the basis of their sexual orientation (AdWeek).
Some progress has certainly been made but invariably at a painstakingly slow pace. Pride Month therefore helps to keeps the fight for equality across all aspects of life at the forefront.
Alignment with audience values is important rands can help to demonstrate their support for addressing these inequalities by being active provides an opportunity for brands to demonstrate their support for this cause by aligning themselves with the core values of their LGBTQ consumers. There are more and more corporate campaigns that have published and created #pridefriendly campaigns.
While publicity and sharing is a welcome outcome, is there a danger that some of this behaviour is simply a ‘box ticking’ exercise that is only self serving?
As a marketer, there are a number of issues that are wrong with that and not least because it is disingenuous. This is where we need to reverse a little and define what we understand as the role of marketing.
The Role of Socially Responsible Marketing
According to Peter Drucker,
“Marketing, more than any other business function, deals with customers. Creating customer value and satisfaction are the heart of modern marketing thinking and practice” (Business Management Ideas).
In addition, the definition of marketing as provided by AMA (American Marketing Association) states:
“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivery, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large”.
While marketing has to have a commercial function, it should always have the customer at the heart of what it does. After all, without customers it can’t exist.
What can we, as marketers and brands, do to be more socially responsible?
To effectively engage with (prospective) customers, brands need to be able to identify with and/or connect properly with them rather than treating them as a commodity. It is a careful, often delicate and complicated process of nurturing that relationship by building trust and being able to relate to their needs and values.
Research indicates that what LGBTQ consumers don’t want to see are brands paying lip service just for Pride but actively promoting change on a constant basis whether that’s visually or internally through employee engagement and inclusive work policies .
“LGBT consumers are savvy individuals who know if you are treating your employees unfairly by not providing appropriate benefits or if you blatantly have policies that discriminate against an LGBT person”.
Evidence also suggests that marketing, in general, is often guilty of perpetuating stereotypes in the media as well as exhibiting a lack of proper representation in advertising. The latter is particularly evident in the number of transgender role models that can be found.
In a survey ‘Visual GPS’ carried out by Getty Images, approx. 33% of the images published portrayed gay men as very “feminine” and gay women as typically “masculine”.
For the purposes of further discussion, let’s take some statistics into consideration.
- LGBTQ community is estimated to be around 4.5% of the population in the US.
- Buying power increased from $884 billion in 2014 to $917 billion in 2017.
- Conservative estimates indicate that the global LGBTQ market is worth $3.7 trillion.
But is marketing activity reflecting this generally and, if not, why not?
A study by Think with Google, found that:
- LGBTQ viewers want to see brands staking their position on LGBTQ issues.
- Almost 66% of YouTube viewers, identifying as LGBTQ, indicated that they would be more likely to purchase from brands that do take a stand and that are inclusive in terms of their messages and representations.
- Moreover, approx. 60% of millennial women expressed their preference for LGBTQ-friendly ads which has a knock effect in terms of improving engagement.
All indicators show that marketing and brands can do more to support the LGBTQ community. It is an opportunity to step outside of Pride and make a commitment to celebrate the diverse nature of life (Forbes), by fully embracing difference and being authentic to a plethora of audience types and influencers in our campaigns.
If we are prepared to prove that we are socially conscious and responsible maybe then we will earn respect and work towards providing a positive contribution within our society while also fulfilling business objectives during Pride and ultimately beyond.
Examples of Socially Responsible Marketing Campaigns
There is an innate fear among brands that they will pitch their campaigns wrong and completely offend. In fact, Smirnoff themselves admitted that they very nearly did when they were designing a new campaign of their own.
Absolut Vodka received a makeover and it was launched as a limited edition Naked bottle in 2009. The marketing campaign was built around the rhetoric of ‘There are No Labels’ and was designed to challenge prejudices concerning sexual identity by reinforcing the concept that what matters is on the inside.
Burger King created a strong message of inclusion with their limited edition flame grilled sandwich wrapped in rainbow packaging and emblazoned with the powerful message ‘we are all the same on the inside’. Not only that, they donated the proceeds from the sales to the McLamore Foundation which offers scholarships to LGBT students in high school.
Human Rights Campaign Foundation provides some advice and guidance in terms of best practice which should help to guide your strategy:
- Perhaps the most important advice is to ask for feedback and use those opinions to formulate your campaigns. Reach out to employees and groups within the community so that you use the empathetic and appropriate language, examples and messaging.
- Be inclusive in your communications and remember that difference is normal.
- Don’t use cliches that reinforce negative connotations.
- Be sensitive and do your research properly in order to avoid alienating people.
- Use authentic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to support your values.
- Allow the LGBTQ+ community to be heard and considered in a respectful manner.
- Do use empathetic and appropriate language and messaging.
SMEs can also help by:
- Being LGBTQ friendly and affirming i.e. creating safe workplaces and providing a continuous commitment.
- Deploying an applicability test i.e. does your communication achieve its objective to be received equally irrespective of orientation, gender etc.
- Inclusive pronouns within the workplace and also when communicating with your audience, for example, through online forms.
- Using social media to demonstrate support, for example, adding appropriate hashtags to posts such as #loveislove, #LGBTQ and #equality. (Alex Gentile, Website Planet, 2021)
The fundamentals of successful marketing are naturally based on our ability to effectively attract customers. Not only that but to retain and build a loyal consumer base. This can only be achieved when we manage to connect on a personal level, through positive engagement and inclusive representation.
There is certainly a lot that we can learn when it comes to socially responsible marketing, particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community but there has never been a better time to start. We talk about diversity and difference but there is a tendency to revert to ‘old habits’ when building strategies. Demographic data to this day tends to present information as two main gender categories i.e. male and female.
Socially conscious marketing can be a powerful tool for businesses but, like any strategy, needs to be authentic. Support for events such as Pride Month are very important in terms of spreading awareness but continue to challenge your marketing strategy to be more insightful.