Rainbow-themed swag is nothing new to mark Pride Month every June. However, things are definitely more colorful now than they’ve been in the past, as more companies roll out LGBTQ-themed campaigns to show their support and perhaps make a buck.
There’s a reason more brands are embracing the community and, by extension, Pride Month campaigns: It is less risky to do so now than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 60 to 31%. Today, a majority of Americans (61%) support same-sex marriage versus 31% who oppose it.
There is also a business case to be made here. According to a 2018 survey by Community Marketing and Insights, more than 75% of LGBT Americans will spend more at a company that supports equality. Many of their allies are also on board – one-third of U.S. consumers feel more positive about a brand that supports Pride, versus one-fifth who felt negative.
As it turns out, there’s a new crop of consumers with growing incomes who want brands to take a stance, and brands are responding. Companies with a high sense of purpose have experienced a valuation increase of 175% over the past 12 years, compared to the median growth rate of 86% and the 70% growth rate for brands with a low sense of purpose, according to Kantar Consulting’s new Purpose 2020 report “Inspiring Purpose-Led Growth.”
This explains why brands are not only forming LGBTQ-friendly alliances and launching rainbow packaging, but also donating proceeds from merchandise and menu items to organizations that serve the community. This year, for example, Chipotle and Shake Shack are both donating proceeds from their Pride retail collections to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth.
Shake Shack has had a longstanding relationship with the organization, according to CMO Jay Livingston, who adds that celebrating Pride Month is simply a way to support the company’s employees and customers.
“As a global company, we’ve been fortunate to employ team members from all over the world and we take pride in respecting and celebrating diversity – in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability and age,” Livingston said. “We know firsthand how variety in life experience positively impacts the growth and innovation of our business.”
The company’s retail collection and Pride shake (a cake batter shake topped with rainbow glitter sprinkles) carries over from last year’s campaign, in which all proceeds from the retail collection and $1 from every shake went toward the Trevor Project. Livingston called the 2018 campaign a “huge success,” furthering the case to do it again.
“We sold out of our retail collection and saw strong shake sales for our Pride shake,” he said.
fresh&co also incorporated its menu into its Pride campaign, selling rainbow bagels, the Love Salad and the Rainbow Sandwich for the occasion.
Purposefully, the menu items resemble a sort of culinary rainbow – the Love Salad includes avocado, Inca berries, watermelon radish, marigold petals, heirloom tomatoes, seeds, mixed greens and kale, for example.
“Our goal was to create colorful dishes utilizing unique, innovative ingredients to represent the uniqueness of every individual,” said Sandra Pope, director of marketing. “We tested multiple dishes and decided to move forward with the salad and sandwich as they were best representative of Pride as a whole.”
Throughout the month, 20% of sales from these items will go toward NYC Pride, a nonprofit that produces official Pride Week events in the city. While the company has long supported the LGBTQ community, this marks its first actual fundraiser. The beneficiary was targeted specifically to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in NYC, for which the city’s police commissioner James P. O’Neill formally apologized earlier this month.
“We support a vast variety of nonprofits, but limit how many fundraisers we host per year to be fair to all organizations. Since this year is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, we decided it was time to show our support for LBGTQ community in a big way,” Pope said.
sweetgreen is also backing up its Pride campaign with philanthropy. The chain has worked with Covenant House in Los Angeles on a number of initiatives – participating in its annual Sleep Out, hiring youth to staff restaurants, renovating housing, etc. – but this is the first time the company has done so on a national level and with a fundraiser. sweetgreen donated $1 from each bowl purchased on June 2 – up to $25,000 – to support the program, which focuses heavily on housing and programming for LGBTQ youth. The company is also selling Pride T-shirts, with proceeds going toward Covenant House.
Kirby Bumpus, sweetgreen’s head of social impact and inclusion, said the June 2 campaign hit the $25,000 goal.
“Covenant House is really thoughtful about making sure its programming and services benefit LGBTQ youth. They take a holistic approach in what they do and so we’re really proud we hit that number,” she said. “For us, the biggest indicator that this was a success is the engagement we received. We were really impressed and touched by the response from social media and from our team members. Anecdotally it was a really positive sentiment.”
These executives are aware of the potential risks involved in taking a stand that could be perceived to be controversial. Still, the thought of not doing a Pride campaign was never on Livingston’s radar.
“We do what we believe in and are proud to show support for our teams and community,” he said. “There’s a risk with any campaign, but we’re excited to show our support for Pride.”
Pope agrees – saying the possibility of alienating customers at fresh&co “never crossed our minds.”
“We don’t think there is a reward or a risk,” she said. “We just think it’s the right thing to do.”
Of course, it helps that attitudes on LGBTQ causes are changing, as indicated by the Pew Research Center numbers.
“The world around us is certainly changing. We’re excited to see an increase in brands, restaurants especially, engaged in this cause. We’re also seeing more customers voting with their dollars, and gravitating toward brands that take a stand is more important to them,” Bumpus said. “We weren’t doing this campaign to drive traffic, just to support an organization. But our message resonated with customers and that drives traffic.”
Livingston predicts that there will be more of these types of campaigns ahead, driven by changing consumer preferences. Indeed, according to research from Edelman, a brand’s social and political stance is now a deciding factor for 64% of consumers globally — including 59% of Americans — on whether or not to buy from the company.
“More and more you’re seeing companies getting involved in causes important to them. They’re using their platforms as an opportunity to not only bring more awareness to important issues, but also as an opportunity for collaboration,” Livingston said. “We love seeing brands thinking about social good and as younger consumers want more authenticity and commitment from the companies they engage with, we’ll continue to see cause marketing campaigns rise.”