Hesperus Mak
Jun 19, 2024

Beyond rainbow filters: Real support for Pride Month

Brands embracing LGBTQ+ consumers should align with their values, not support them in June when it's cool to do so, says this VML Hong Kong strategy director.

Beyond rainbow filters: Real support for Pride Month

Pride month this year is quieter after the Bud Light backlash. While the impact of the backlash on Asian marketers is unclear, it has undoubtedly added to the hesitance that many brands in Asia already had. Companies need to decide whether to act or not in an increasingly polarized world

However, Bud Light's marketing blunder is not an excuse to be on the fence. Their mistake stemmed from a poor understanding of their brand and consumers and naivety that a frat-boy brand can be inclusive overnight. We can all learn from its failure that token support and actions inconsistent with brand values would only alienate customers on both ends.

Remember that diversity, equity, and inclusion will only become more critical. 74% of consumers would like to see broader diversity in advertising and marketing. As Asia's LGBTQ+ community is making great strides on many fronts, it's time to step up your game and move past the tokenism.

Don't support it because it's cool

While having LGBTQ+ characters in advertising is still a bold choice in many Asia markets, it's time to cross the chasm of using LGBTQ+ stories as a provocation to normalize LGBTQ+ representation.

According to a recent survey, the global LGBTQ+ population is estimated to be 11%, and this figure will likely go up as attitudes continue to shift. However, a global review of advertising by Unstereotype Alliance revealed that the visibility of LGBTQ+ characters in advertising is only around 3%—a noticeable gap compared to the estimated population. If we represent at least one in 10 of your customers, we want to see ourselves in your commercials instead of a stereotypical cast.

Representation matters. A Viacom study revealed that when individuals don't personally know an LGBTQ+ person, media representation and celebrity acceptance are the number one factors in changing their perception. In other words, the power to move our society forward is yours. When you regularly show authentic LGBTQ+ stories in your marketing, more people will see it as just part of life. Big brands like Unilever already recognized their power in influencing billions of people. They developed toolkits to incorporate inclusive thinking and challenge stereotypes in their content development and production process. Brands need to see beyond the binary view of consumers and recognize the wide range of people in society. 

Moving from segment to alignment

Viewing LGBTQ+ as a niche will only lead to seasonal marketing efforts. With global LGBTQ+ purchasing power estimated to be higher than Japan's GDP in 2022, it is worth looking beyond Pride Month marketing and aligning your support with some initiatives that impact every brand.

1) The LGBTQ+ strategy should be your next-gen strategy. 

If your brand is recruiting Gen Z, you cannot disregard their attitude towards LGBTQ+. More Gen Z, a whopping 17%, identified as LGBTQ+. The rest would also be more likely to ally with the LGBTQ+ community. Growing up in the cancel culture, they demand inclusivity but are also more critical of tokenism and queerbaiting. To earn their support, brands must genuinely support and engage the LGBTQ+ community. For example, Revolut partnered with Singapore-based charity Oogachaga to launch a diversity card and supported the local community via donations. Partnering with an organization that understands the community helps the brand to earn credibility.

2) Incorporate LGBTQ+ in your wellness strategy. 

Today, every brand is a wellness brand. From travel and finance to packaged food, wellness has become essential as consumers look for holistic well-being in all aspects of life. Research found that the LGBTQ+ community is likely to experience loneliness due to minority stress. They also experience unique challenges regarding financial well-being, such as managing the healthcare costs of starting a family and legal barriers in estate planning in some countries. Taking an inclusive approach to brand building means understanding and addressing these well-being concerns that the community is facing. For example, Chubb's latest campaign highlighted how its product helps the LGBTQ+ community overcome legacy planning obstacles.

3) Include LGBTQ+ in your sustainability engagement. 

S&P Global analysed ESG filings from 10,000 global companies and found that only 10% of APAC companies mentioned LGBTQ+, indicating room for more inclusion practices. While we often see DEI as social sustainability, we overlook how climate change disproportionately impacts vulnerable LGBTQ+ individuals. For example, in the disaster-prone Philippines, LGBTQ+ individuals reported experiencing discrimination practices in relief and rehabilitation. Companies can support these vulnerable individuals by partnering with NGOs to raise awareness of climate justice for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Brands that deliver on inclusion will remain relevant today and in the future. In many markets and categories, LGBTQ+ inclusion is still a white space. If you act early, you can sway the brand preference of 11% of your customers. Otherwise, we will turn away.

Hesperus Mak is strategy director at VML Hong Kong.

Campaign Asia

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