‘Pride’ and prejudice: Brands scale back Pride displays amid profit, reputation losses

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News

 

U.S. companies are taking a more muted approach to Pride month this year than in 2023, with punishing conservative boycotts of Target and Bud Light still fresh on their minds.

Thirty percent of consumer brands toned down their Pride Month engagement strategy from last year, according to Gravity Research, a business consulting firm that offers firms reputational risk assessments.

“We’ve heard consistently that Pride Month last year was highly contentious,” Luke Hartig, president of Gravity Research, said during a recent webinar, as reported by Forbes.

“Folks have told us that LGBTQ issues feel as polarized in a way that they haven’t seen since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed same-sex marriage,” Hartig explained in the online symposium aimed at helping companies “tailor Pride Month engagement in a way that minimizes reputation risk,” according to the report.

LGBTQ equity was ranked sixth on Gravity’s latest “Societal Issue Risk Index,” a 10-point scale of polarizing social issues that impact consumer behavior. 

‘THE LEFT’S ANNUAL TEST OF LGBT LOYALTY”

According to Susan Bowdey, editorial director and senior writer for The Washington Stand, conversations among company board members about Pride month have shifted from “‘How can we maximize our visibility on Pride?’” to “‘What can we do to show our support without burning consumer bridges?’” 

“To most CEOs’ surprise, the wave of national fury over trans activism hasn’t just remained steady over the past 14 months — it’s exploded in strength and scope,” Bowdey writes. “The firepower that consumers have unleashed against brands like Target, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Disney, Planet Fitness, and others have put companies on defense at a time of year when they’re used to passing the Left’s annual test of LGBT loyalty.”

Matt Skallerud, strategist for Pink Media – a company that helps firms reach the LGBTQ demographic – recently told USA Today that he has seen a significant drop in companies asking for help with Pride projects this year. Skallerud conceded that conservative commentator Matt Walsh’s call last year to make Pride “toxic” for brands worked.

“Nobody in the media, marketing, and advertising world wants to admit how heavy and hard this [conservative backlash] has been,” Skallerud said.

While well-known brands like Levi’s, Walmart, and Reebok are busy rolling out social media rainbow logos and Pride merchandise, other companies have embarked on a fool’s errand to appease everyone – a strategy that seldom works in today’s polarizing cultural climate.

Target took heat from both sides last month when it declared its unwavering support for the LGBTQ community in an announcement that it would dial back its Pride merchandise and displays. 

“Target’s decision is disappointing and alienates LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at the risk of not only their bottom line but also their values,” Human Resource Campaign President Kelley Robinson told CNN.

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Brian Mumbert, Vice President and Regional Sales Executive at Timothy Plan, recently told Financial Issues host Shana Burt that fear drives many businesses – particularly smaller ones – to cave to the woke mob each June. 

“For many of the smaller companies that are out there that ultimately do turn a rainbow logo on in June, many times, it’s a defense mechanism for them,” Mumbert said. “And we’ve seen that. The easiest way to stay under the radar sometimes, unfortunately, is to…pander, in a way, to the side that you fear is going to attack you the most; in this case, the very vocal minority out there will crucify a company for not doing what they think is enough.”

The LGBTQ community refers to this middle-ground approach as “rainbow washing,” according to Katherine Sender, a Cornell University communications professor who is part of the school’s Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies program.

“The accusation of rainbow washing tends to go towards companies who are seen as doing a very kind of superficial job,” Sender explained in a recent NPR interview. “They bop into the area of gay marketing in June, and we don’t hear anything more about them for the rest of the year in that realm.”

SHIFTING PERCEPTIONS A BOON TO CONSERVATIVE BRANDS

A recent Axios/Harris survey of U.S. businesses found that Americans increasingly trust companies that stay out of divisive cultural and political issues more than those that don’t, as reported by The Christian Post. 

The results revealed a major shift in Americans’ perception of brands that push progressive ideology.

The study measured “reputation quotients” that rate companies on seven attributes: “trust, character, ethics, vision, citizenship, growth and products and services.”

The results showed that Americans across all political spectrums trust brands that don’t push political and cultural agendas more than those that do.  

“Nearly two-thirds of the companies in this year’s survey saw their total reputation quotients decline,” the report states.

Moreover, 44% of respondents said that their overall opinion of brands declined, particularly those “overly focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Conversely, “traditionally conservative-leaning brands,” like Subway, Hobby Lobby, and Fox Corporation saw “sizable gains in corporate reputation,” according to the report.

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