During his childhood, Brent Miller, 42, rarely saw positive media representation of the LGBTQ community.
“Everything that I saw was basically media coverage about gay men dying,” said Miller, who is gay. “Everything that I saw was negative reinforcement of what it meant to be gay.”
Fast forward to this June. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the police raid of New York’s Stonewall Inn, which ignited the LGBTQ rights movement. Miller, associate director of global beauty communications at Procter & Gamble, is leading Pantene’s “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m BeautifuLGBTQ” ad campaign which hearkens back to its famous 1986 slogan. Pantene says the campaign redefines what “‘beautiful’ looks like in today’s world by featuring a range of people within the LGBTQ+ community and their own unique stories of transformation.”
The Procter & Gamble hair care brand was in good company in June as a long list of companies packaged and promoted Pride Month, which has grown into an annual celebration of LGBTQ contributions to society. Apparel brands including Adidas, Levi’s and Michael Kors; restaurant chains like Chipotle, Just Salads and Fresh & Co.; and tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft — have either launched Pride-themed products, run LGBTQ-themed ads, or donated to nonprofit organizations that support the community.
The outreach appears to be big business. While none of the companies USA TODAY asked provided sales or other measurements of the success of their Pride marketing, the outreach likely has benefits. LGBTQ community’s combined buying power was about $917 billion according to the most recent data from Witeck Communications. According to LGBTQ research firm Community Marketing & Insights, 78% of people surveyed said they tend to support companies that market and support the LGBTQ community.
The messaging also attracts non-LGBTQ customers who strongly back values such as inclusivity, according to Americus Reed, who teaches courses on consumer behavior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
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But some members of the LGBTQ community aren’t completely sold on Pride marketing.
Logan Bean, 22, who lives in Washington state and identifies himself as a member of the LGBTQ community, said he is frustrated with big corporations exploiting the community and Pride month and that he views some of the marketing as opportunistic.
“Many of them aren’t inclusive year round and just put rainbow products in their line and call it pride without donating a single cent to LGBTQ+ charities,” he said.
And though they showed up in Calvin Klein’s pride ad, transgender actor and model Indya Moore posted several tweets asking for more lasting support.
“Celebrating Pride month is giving to queer not selling to queer. Creating products with rainbows on it for queer and trans people to buy isn’t celebrating pride month,” they tweeted.
“Representation shouldn’t be an annual event, holiday or a marketing strategy. It Should be a normalized & regular protocol whenever it’s time to hire,” they said in another tweet.
Moore’s point is something that brands need to consider, according to Wharton’s Reed.
“If you don’t have the authenticity of the company, you just suddenly showing up like I’m LGBTQ-supportive, consumers might infer or draw the conclusion that you are using a marketing gimmick to try to get more sales,” said Reed.
Still, the broader support and increased number of images that celebrate the LGBTQ community are having positive results, some argue. Some organizations that support the community have received a surge in the financial donations. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ young people, got donations of more than $4 million from its corporate partners this Pride month, almost double last year, according to Muneer Panjwani, head of corporate development.
Wearing Pride products conveys visible support and connection to the community, said Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer of GLAAD, an organization that monitors media representation of LGBTQ community. It signals to “people who might not feel safe or comfortable to come out that they’re not alone” he said.
More trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people are featured this year in ads, compared to previous years, Ferraro said. He pointed to the commercials of clothing retailers Express, Gap, and Calvin Klein, and department store chain Macy’s.
Swedish Vodka brand Absolut, which began marketing to the community as early as 1981 running advertisements in two American magazines read by gay men, this year featured a transgender child and her father in an ad.
“Trans people who are rejected by families are more likely to face risks in being homelessness and having suicide attempts,” Simon de Beauregard, director of engagement at Absolut said. “We want to show unconditional love in the ad.”
Showing black transgender women in commercials may be particularly helpful given the danger many are currently facing. So far this year, at least 11 black transgender women have been killed, according to Human Rights Campaign.
When a transgender black woman shows up in the commercials, it sends positive messages to a LGBTQ youth, GLAAD’s Ferraro said, “that you can grow up and be a successful model, you can grow up and be a face of a brand and that there are brands that stand with you.”
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Sarah Moeller, director of development of GLSEN, an organization working to create LGBTQ-inclusive K-12 schools, also stressed the importance of representation. The organization this year has partnered with brands like Disney and Hollister, which are “family-friendly” targeting children and teenagers.
“We hear from young people that seeing themselves represented in that way makes a difference,” Moeller said.
Follow Frances Yue on Twitter: @FrancesYue_.