A Matter of Pride

The significant consumer backlash suffered by companies such as Target, Bud Light, Disney, Starbucks, the L.A. Dodgers, and others for their Pride promotions in 2023 has led some key companies to reduce their public support of Pride Month in 2024, or avoid acknowledging the moment altogether. For example:

  • Target is cutting back on its Pride displays after a significant backlash last year. It says it is featuring merchandise in select stores, chosen based on past sales data, and avoiding children’s products. A full assortment of Pride merchandise remains available online. In previous years, the retailer sold Pride products in all of its 2,000 stores, but last year it was accused of selling trans-friendly merchandise to children—although the swimsuits in question were only available in adult sizes—and faced threats to workers from irate customers and activists. This led the retailer to pull some merchandise or move it to the back of the store, depending on location, which led to a competing backlash from supporters of Pride.
  • Bud Light has not mentioned Pride Month on social media, according to reporting in various publications, focusing on its partnership with the UFC and fighter Dustin Poirier this month instead. The company was the focus of one of the most high profile controversies last year, due to a single post through an influencer partnership it had with transgender celebrity Dylan Mulvaney that led to a big backlash and ultimately to a significant drop in sales of its core product.
  • Nike also has not yet posted about Pride this year or offered any specific products. Last year it promoted its inclusive Be True initiative and offered a 2023 Be True Collection online, as well as running ads featuring Mulvaney modeling a Nike athletic outfit. This generated negative feedback from some fans and anti-LGBTQ+ groups. The 2023 Be True Collection still appears on Nike’s website, but only a long-sleeved t-shirt and a digital gift card are listed as available, and there is no 2024 iteration.
  • The North Face previously partnered with drag queen Pattie Gonia for Summer of Pride events in 2022 and 2023, as well as producing a Pride Collection, both of which it defended robustly last year after complaints by consumers and politicians. But, while it did post a supportive Pride message on social media in 2024, it seems to have no Pride merchandise on offer this year.
  • While the vast majority of pro sports teams whose seasons are ongoing in June are holding Pride events at their stadiums—including the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were at the epicenter of controversy in 2023—others have muted their congratulatory messages. A number of publications have reported that nine NFL teams (which do not play in June), have avoided the topic entirely on social media this year, for example.

These and similar moves by other companies to distance themselves from Pride celebrations have received some negative pushback in 2024, but nowhere near at the levels that marketers met with last year when they fully supported Pride.

Most of the companies pulling back, when asked about their decisions surrounding Pride this year, make clear that they continue to support and welcome the LGBTQ+ community and all consumers. And they often participate in pro-LGBTQ+ initiatives, even if not promoting them as heavily; Bud Light and Target both are sponsors of a handful of Pride parades around the country, for example.

Of course, many other companies are supporting Pride as per usual this month, a strategy that, until 2023, had been growing year after year. This is especially true in traditionally LGBTQ+-friendly industries such as fashion, but also across the board. To cite just two examples: Wildbrain CPLG is pairing with Thai retailer Siam Piwat to put Teletubbies at the center of Bangkok Pride, with the characters leading the parade, taking over the Siam Center mall, launching a pop-up shop, and being featured on Pride-themed products from licensees Take Toys, Iconic Apparel Group, and Leisure Products. Similarly, Adidas launched a 2024 Pride Collection designed with Brazilian drag performer Pabllo Vittar and is running a Pride campaign featuring athletes from the LGBTQ+ community, including WNBA player Layshia Clarendon and British Olympic diver Tom Daley.

Some of the companies that were most in the spotlight last year continue to oversee supportive Pride events or other initiatives as well. Disney is celebrating Pride Night at its Orlando theme parks as usual and offers an extensive Pride Collection in its on-premises stores and online. Kohl’s, which also faced a notable backlash in 2023, is offering a Pride Collection again in 2024, with 361 items listed online, along with supportive messaging.

Overall, 78% of Fortune 500 companies are staying the course on their Pride Month activities in 2024, according to Gravity Research, while 9% are planning changes and 13% are unsure. (The results were issued in May.). Notably, however, the consumer goods sector was three times more likely (30%, versus 9% across all companies) to say they were changing their strategy this year.

A reminder that Raugust Communications’ monthly newsletter comes out tomorrow, June 18, 2024. The Licensing Topic of the Month examines recent changes and challenges at the lower end of retail, while the Datapoint research spotlight evaluates how the size and scope of limited collaborations has changed over the past five years. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can sign up here.

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