Issues that brands express concern for only during Pride Month continue to exist beyond those 30 days for the LGBTQ+ community, and The Branding Nook’s Dr Prachi Gupta says new age marketers need to devise innovative ways for genuine outreach to the community.  

Every year, the month of June paints the entire world in rainbow colours with brands drawing pride by associating with the LGBTQ+ community, expressing their care and concern aloud. On July 1, as soon as Pride Month is over, the seemingly sentient brands nestled under the pride rainbow get on with counting their gushing profits.

Yes, there are brands who donate some portion of their profits generated from Pride merchandise sales to support the LGBTQ+ community. But such one-time contributions without any long-standing commitment towards the upliftment of the community seems to be a low-effort easy route to showcase the human side of a brand.

Merely symbolic!

For brands, business is the primary matter, which is valid. But does business only mean short-term profits or does it also indicate long-term recall value and image building?

Every major event and every important day of the year is a marketing vehicle that brands cannot afford to miss a ride on. So, a number of brands are seen with rainbow dipped logos and merchandise during the Pride month to be in line with the competition and to gain a competitive edge.

But is this competitive advantage a sustainable one? Why don’t some brands move out from the red ocean and adopt the blue ocean strategy that can leave a differentiating mark on the hearts and minds of customers?

Brands that are willing to adopt the blue ocean strategy need to simply avoid restricting themselves to the month of June and instead should continue being visible the other 11 months of the year too. The noticeability of these brands would hike up. Each penny spent by them on marketing activities will bring back stronger returns. Customers who spend some share of their wallet on these brands will keep increasing that share due to their connection with the brand’s human values. Instead of cheque book philanthropy, brands should opt for on-ground action-oriented image building. Purpose-driven branding will make the difference and give a strong string to their positioning.

All of this is possible in current India. Taboo around topics relating to same-sex relationships has not been completely shed but constructive changes in that direction are being witnessed in society today. LGBTQ+ rights in India have evolved in recent years. In August 2017, the Supreme Court of India gave the country’s LGBTQ+ community the freedom to safely express their sexual orientation. This was followed by the Supreme Court’s momentous move in September 2018 which reversed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, decriminalising consensual homosexual acts.

In the last few years, many Bollywood movies and OTT shows have been addressing taboo topics, thus helping alter people’s mindset. Celebrities like Akshay Kumar, Twinkle Khanna, Ayushmann Khurrana and others can be considered a few of the major influencers. Movies like Kapoor & Sons, Aligarh, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and OTT shows like Made in Heaven, Married Women, His Story and many others released recently, have contributed towards making conversations about same-sex relationships in India mainstream.

When these movies and shows are finding appreciative audiences, why are brands not de-closeting and contributing in bringing about the cultural change?

In the current Pride month of 2021, there is again a global deluge of brands showcasing their support for the community, both actively and passively. But, in India, very few brands that foster an environment normalising the existence of the LGBTQ+ community are visible.

Youth-oriented brand Bewakoof, which is one of the fastest-growing direct-to-consumer brands, released its extensive all-gender footwear and apparel collection in Pride-inspired colours. Some music platforms in India, like music streaming services Jio Saavn and Spotify, and music channel VH1, are also celebrating Pride Month – of course, more so with their brilliant marketing tactics that show their solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, only during the month of June.

There is also a lack of brand advertisements revolving around the theme of the rightful existence and emotions of the LGBTQ+ community in India. This is despite the fact that consumers, especially the aware youth, find brands that take a stand on topics of social justice and show committed actions very appealing. Long-term loyalties are built with such brands.

An example of this is the success of the “Touch of Care” campaign by Vicks in 2017. The ad portrayed the real-life story of Gauri Sawant, a transgender woman, who raised an orphan girl, Gayatri, with extreme love and care. In the ad, Gayatri says, “My Civics book says that everyone is entitled to basic rights. Then why is my mom denied them?”

This innocent statement touched many emotional chords. The campaign was seen as bold and courageous, and it led to big results for Vicks with an 8% increase in brand recall, 23% increase in sales as per Provoke 18 and many big accolades at Cannes, South Asia SABRE, PR Awards (India edition) and many others worldwide. There have been a few more ads by brands like Titan and Myntra around the theme that were also impactful.

Genuine efforts and acceptability of LGBTQ+ community people from all walks of life, at every level of the organisation, are required to shed the stigma attached. The Pride month of 2021 has seen many companies turning their focus inward by running educational programmes for their employees and creating safer and more inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Here too, inclusivity has to make bigger strides, with certain policy changes in the companies that can bring about long-term systemic turnarounds.

Accenture, the first-mover company in India to introduce medical cover for gender reassignment surgery, is a great example of this. Big Indian conglomerates Reliance, Tata and Mahindra feature on the global list of LGBTQ+ inclusive companies. They have taken consistent and concrete steps to make the workplace and organisational culture inclusive, and openly communicate the availability of equal job opportunities for people from the LGBTQ+ community to potential talent.

Such measures make the employer brand reputable. Inclusive policies can enable high-calibre people from the LGBTQ+ community to also get visibility as corporates – a very positive sign as these behemoths can be the influencers that help normalise taboo subjects, leading to constructive changes in society.

In this age, when social media and corporate initiatives have created enough awareness of LGBTQ+ rights, it’s time to move beyond the awareness stage to build connections. Most pride organisations are deeply connected with their local wings. Constant contact with these local groups and helping amplify their cause can be an effective marketing strategy.

As per data furnished by LGBT Capital (measured year-end 2019), the global spending power of the community is estimated at US$3.9 trillion. So, instead of making an effort to get their voice heard in the noisy month of June, if brands silently work towards genuinely blending with the LGBTQ+ culture, they can win them and their potential to spend again and again.

We have to forge past rainbowed merchandise and laidback donations towards more tangible outcomes. Issues that brands express concern for only during the month of June continue to exist and matter for long past those 30 days for the LGBTQ+ community. Hence, new-age marketers need to devise innovative ways that make their outreach to the community genuine and their presence in the hearts and minds of consumers sustainable. Awareness creation has become commoditised. Now, it is real, on-ground action that can set the brands apart, leading to strong equity building for them.