Pride campaigns go global this June as High Court decision looms

Campaigns targeting LGBT consumers are going bigger, more mainstream, and more international this June as the nation awaits a Supreme Court decision that could legalize marriage equality nationwide.

Maytag – a quintessential American brand as any – posted an image on its social media channels this week of its iconic repairman holding a cake with rainbow filling and copy reading, "Equality and Cake for All."

The appliance manufacturer included the message "Proud to be in any home" in solidarity with gay-pride events this month across North America and other parts of the world.

On Twitter, the message was retweeted more than 2,000 times and favorited by about 4,000 users, a testament to how mainstream celebrating LGBT pride has become.

Bill Reihl, partner and director of Ketchum’s global brand practice, which works with Maytag, says the message is a show of support from "an iconic American brand."

"The copy and creative was really smart, with its hidden reference to those bakers who refuse to make wedding cakes for LGBT couples," he says, referencing recent news headlines. "I think that is why it broke through. It was a great way for them to communicate their corporate values."

Brendan Bosch, senior brand manager at Maytag, tells PRWeek in an e-mail, "What better way to show our support than with something our appliances can help create — a rainbow cake."

DigitasLBi, an agency owned by Publicis Groupe, was behind the creative.

Bosch adds that June is an especially important month for LGBT outreach – for one, it’s pride month – but more than ever this year. The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on marriage equality this month.

Experts in LGBT communications predict brand marcomms about gay pride will be noticeably amplified this year due to the expected ruling, which they expect will make gay marriage a constitutional right. Same-sex unions are already legal in 38 states and the District of Colombia, and states such as Hawaii have recently dismissed legal challenges to legislation permitting same-sex unions.

"We’re clearly at a tipping point," says Stephen Macias, SVP for LGBT and national group practice lead at MWW. "Just look at the conversations we’re now having: we’ve moved on from just gay and lesbian rights to now an open dialogue about Caitlyn Jenner and transgender issues."

Although he declined to talk specifics about client work, he says, "I’ve never seen so much corporate involvement in pride month in my 20 years working in this space."

"And I’ve never seen an outpouring of companies lining up a strategy in alignment with the marriage-equality conversation," Macias adds.

Some long-time corporate supporters of gay pride are even taking their backing of the issue up a notch, getting behind LGBT rights on a global scale.

Last year at this time, Absolut introduced a limited-time bottle in rainbow-flag colors and sold about 35,000 units, says Jeffrey Moran, VP of PR, events and sponsorship at Pernod Ricard, which owns the vodka brand.

This year, the colorful Absolut bottle is making a return to shelves, this time permanently and in liquor stores worldwide, in conjunction with its new Express Your Pride campaign.

"The launch of the bottle is something we’ve been interested in doing for a number of years, but as with any global organization there are approvals to get through. Here in the US, we really pushed hard for this," says Moran. "We really saw it as a slam dunk."

While he says, "We’re not a political brand," the Express Your Pride platform also includes an integrated marketing campaign that illustrates its support of same-sex marriage head-on. The company posted a four-minute video on YouTube called Surprise Marriage Proposal, which documents a real-life proposal between two women on a beach. The spot has garnered more than 566,000 views since it was posted midway through last month.

Weber Shandwick is handling PR for Absolut’s LGBT comms, and SPI is overseeing creative counseling.

Weber is also promoting Absolut’s new alliance with nonprofit Trevor NextGen, which helps youths struggling with their sexuality.

"Hopefully, they are not struggling as much as people in the 1960s and 70s to come out, but we realize the new generation is going to face a different set of challenges," Moran says.

Scott Seitz, CEO of SPI Marketing, believes more brands will start approaching LGBT comms through a global lens. He points out that many countries now have gay-pride festivals or have adopted or moved towards legislation to recognize marriage between same-sex couples.

In May, for instance, Ireland became the first nation to approve gay marriage by referendum, despite the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church, which carries significant influence in the country.

"I have watched several companies develop roles for a global marketing person on LGBT," Seitz says. "It used to be very difficult to coordinate marketing efforts on a global basis for all sorts of reasons. Some of those reasons are minor and others such as messaging much more complicated."

Yet he adds that "LGBT is now seen as a consumer group rather than a community."

"It is an evolution that has been going on for a long time, but for a while, people still felt it was a community and needed to be targeted as such," Seitz adds. "Now you can market more broadly."

Starwood-owned W Hotels Worldwide is also ramping up its marketing and social media activity for its Turn It Up for Change campaign, which launched last October in partnership with singer Jennifer Hudson and Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil-rights advocacy group.

Turn It Up for Change, which is focused on the "fight for fifty" – or marriage-rights recognition in all US states – has raised more than $100,000 for HRC through marquee and local fundraising events, says Anthony Ingham, global brand leader for W Hotels Worldwide.

As part of the campaign, W Hotels helped to launch Jennifer Hudson’s new "I Still Love You" video, which depicts a father’s last-minute decision to attend his gay son’s wedding.

"While decidedly fun and upbeat, it also helps deliver a powerful message of love and acceptance," says Ingham.

The hotel chain, which was the first in New York to offer same-sex wedding packages when the state passed marriage equality legislation in 2011, also has a new accommodation package for the market.

"We have always been ‘out’ about our support for LGBT rights and proud of it," says Ingham. "Regardless of how the court rules, this thinking will not change."

Matt Tumminello, president of Target 10, which advises Starwood on LGBT insights and best practices, says even if the Supreme Court decision is unfavorable, it won’t stop corporations from communicating values of equality and inclusiveness.

"These brands are on now on-record saying what their position is, and I think that is why we’re seeing such strong consumer responses, because they don’t need a state or federal decision to dictate it," says Tumminello. "I don’t think any brand that is vocal on this issue is pinning it to one decision or another."

"They are just simply saying, ‘These are our core values,’" he says. 

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