This Pride month, there was a noticeable surge in brands promoting or celebrating various initiatives to show support.
While it is a time of celebration and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, brand involvement comes with a fair share of controversies and debates.
In a recent CARAVAN survey, Big Village specifically examined the ongoing conversation surrounding the backlash, which has generated polarizing views.
Seven out of 10 consumers say brands have shown authentic support for Pride Month this year, calling out Target, Google and Disney with other brands like Bud Light, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and Walmart following.
For 7 out of 10, at least one of these brands demonstrated authenticity in pride month.
% of US adult population who think brands showed authentic support for Pride Month this year
Among brands that participated in Pride Month, the most authentic form of support is related to messaging portrayed in advertisements. Standing by the LGBTQ+ community even when faced with criticism and actively supporting the community’s rights and well-being beyond June also elicits a positive response from individuals.
But there is room for companies to do more than just pinkwashing. Employee policies to ensure all gender identities are valued, public acknowledgment of issues, and social media campaigns can help bolster the message of authenticity for some.
Advertising messaging remains the most impactful indicator of genuine support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Race influences how companies are perceived in terms of their support for LGBTQ+ initiatives. Among the different racial groups, Hispanics indicate social media campaigns and employee policies are more authentic measures of support for LGBTQ+ issues. They specifically call out Walmart and Starbucks for demonstrating such support. Additionally, messaging portrayed in advertisements is more authentic to this cohort compared to other racial groups.
Top 4 LGBTQ+ Initiatives that Feel Authentic – By Race
Although fewer companies are associated with less authentic LGBTQ+ initiatives, any involvement opens the door to challenges and complexities for these businesses as they participate in LGBTQ+ advocacy.
Tracking purchase intent can be valuable to help uncover market response, especially in light of such controversies.
It is evident that the stance taken by a brand has influenced the purchasing decisions of certain respondents, increasing their likelihood of buying products from that brand.
We assessed purchase intent for six brands and observed that polarization, distinguishing between those who are more likely to buy and those who are less likely to buy, is more pronounced among brands such as Bud Light and Target, as compared to the other brands.
Brands like Target and Bud Light have a noticeably lower purchase likelihood.
% of US adult population more or less likely to purchase among those aware of controversy regarding various brands during Pride month this year
The reasons behind changes in purchase intent throws light on the polarized views. Some respondents expressed they believe a company like Bud Light should focus on its product rather than taking a stance on matters related to LGBTQ+. There were also comments about the company’s insincerity and poor handling of the situation, which led to a decrease in trust towards the brand.
In a similar vein, there was also general dissatisfaction with Target’s handling of Pride Month. Some expressed concerns about the company’s perceived exploitation of Pride for profit, the visibility of Pride-themed products, especially those aimed at children, and the company’s response to the backlash. While some felt that Pride Month and related issues were being forced upon them and their children, others were upset that Target seemed to back down from its support of Pride in the face of controversy. Retail Dive also reported on May 31, 2023, the coalition of LGBTQ+ advocacy groups called on the retailer to “release a public statement in the next 24 hours reaffirming their commitment to the LGBTQ+ community.”1
A significantly lower level of likability compared to other brands can be a factor in driving the lower purchase likelihood for Bud Light. On the other hand, the retail giant Target receives a higher likability rating, suggesting that certain brands, would require more than temporary criticism to diminish their strong brand affinity.
Bud Light has a lower likeability rating when compared to other brands.
% of US adult population and their feelings about brands involved in controversy in this year’s Pride month
Another factor for lower purchase likelihood can be inferred from awareness levels of the various controversies. Of the brands tested, almost 7 out of 10 are aware of the controversy with Bud Light while brands like Lego, Kohl’s, North Face, Cracker Barrel only have 2 out of 10 stating they have heard of the controversy.
Bud Light shows the highest awareness of controversy among all brands.
% of US adult population and their awareness of backlash or controversies surrounding brands in this year’s Pride month
Generally, individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ tend to have higher awareness levels of controversies surrounding these brands. Moreover, different racial groups display varying levels of awareness regarding the controversies. It is noteworthy that White individuals exhibit lower awareness of controversies surrounding smaller brands compared to Black and Hispanic individuals, who demonstrate greater awareness. Consequently, White individuals are more likely to mention that their purchasing decisions around smaller brands are less impacted possibly due to their lower levels of awareness.
While the involvement of notable brands in Pride Month has undoubtedly increased the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community, controversies will continue to underpin them. This should not prevent them from leading by example. For businesses to truly support the LGBTQ+ community, they must go beyond marketing gestures and actively foster inclusivity, diversity, and social change within their organizations. By doing so, brands can transform Pride Month from a mere commercial opportunity into a catalyst for lasting progress and equality.
Written by Betty Cherian, Manager, B2B Program Management at Big Village Insights.
The data presented are from a CARAVAN conducted by Big Village Insights among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,010 adults, 18 years of age and older. This survey was live on June 26-28, 2023
- Daphne Howland, “How Target went from loud and proud — to silent,” Retail Deep Dive, June 5, 2023