Pride starts now for brands that mean it


The stakes are higher than ever in 2023, says Newfangled Studios' Macaela VanderMost.

Micaela VanderMost, founder and executive creative director, Newfangled Studios.

It’s springtime. For truly inclusive brands, that means it’s the season of Pride planning. 

But this year, the stakes are higher than ever before. 

With more than 650 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in 46 states proposed in 2023 alone, according to the Movement Advancement Project, and with the ongoing controversy over Bud Light’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, queer people are demanding more substance and sustained effort from brands claiming to be allies. 

As a queer woman and founder of Newfangled Studios, I have two front-row seats, one as a marketer and another as a member of the community, as to why Pride campaigns are so important, especially this year. 

Like most people — 83% of millennials and 91% of Gen Z, according to a 2021 survey from The Harris Poll — I consider brand allyship with nearly every dollar I spend. Each time I shop, eat or visit a corporate office, that brand has the opportunity to tell me I’m safe and valued by displaying pronouns or offering gender neutral bathrooms. 

When my wife and I travel, we only stay with hotel chains that have inclusive training programs, so we know they’ll welcome us without raising an eyebrow. When it was time to enroll our daughters in daycare, clear support on the company’s website gave us confidence that our family would be respected. 

These are all examples of meaningful and sustained efforts by brands to create safer spaces for LGBTQIA+ people and those who love them. Please note that none of these examples are selling rainbow-colored merch or adding a rainbow to a logo -- though that is appreciated if you can back it up. 

So what can brands do to earn the loyalty of the 72% of Americans who demand allyship in a year where the queer community is under attack? It comes down to understanding the difference between tokenism and celebration. 

Tokenism is the practice of making only a symbolic or superficial effort during high-visibility times, often for the purpose of attracting sales from members of the community.  

In contrast, celebration involves actively recognizing and honoring the contributions and value of diverse individuals or groups through genuine, meaningful and sustained efforts to promote equity and create a more inclusive environment.

If you are interested in the latter, and avoiding the former, start with these three steps:

Create nothing about us without us

It takes many voices to ensure a brand understands and respects the complexities and nuances of the multicultural, multigenerational and extremely diverse LGBTQIA+ community. That’s why no stories of marginalized people should be told without intentional representation on creative and strategy teams. This could mean having representation on your creative staff, hiring an LGBTQIA+ run agency or tapping into DEIB-focused creative consultancies.  

Make a real and meaningful impact

Before you think about your campaign assets, work with a member of the community -- see step -- to identify real ways to help queer people. It could be raising money to support trans youth. Maybe it’s hiring an entirely queer production crew to tell modern queer stories. Perhaps it’s training your employees to be more welcoming and inclusive of their LGBTQIA+ customers. Whatever you do, do something for us before making anything about us. 

Show the receipts

We’ve become accustomed to brand rainbow washing without any real substance, so use your platform to make your intentions and impact known. If you’re selling rainbow merch to benefit trans youth, your creative should feature trans youth and clearly explain where that profit is going. If you’re amplifying our voices, make sure your brand doesn’t overpower the messaging, and that your CTA drives consumers to a place they can learn more about the LGBTQIA+ people you featured. There’s a time and place to drive traffic to your online store, and Pride isn’t it. Make it easy for us to find proof of your commitment. 

Last but not least, don’t stop after June. While we don’t expect to be the main focus of your advertising year-round, true allyship requires sustained effort. Make sure you’re continuing to create safer spaces for your LGBTQIA+ customers and employees and including queer people in casting year round. 

2023 has been an especially tough year for our community, with many people feeling as if we’re under attack. Brands have an opportunity -- dare I say responsibility? -- to counter all of that negative energy this June. It’s my hope that they take it very seriously. 

If your brand needs help planning a Pride campaign with meaningful impact, take the first step and reach out to an LGBTQIA+ run agency. We’d be happy to hear from you at Newfangled Studios, or you can reach out to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce for a recommendation. 

Macaela VanderMost is the founder and executive creative director at Newfangled Studios.

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