Advice on Love to LGBTQ+ Ally Brands From ... Michael Bolton?
I've been witness to many conversations about whether people can truly love brands. I actually think they can. But like many people in the dating pool, they expect love and don’t do much to earn it.
Dates send a few nice words in a profile, post some perfectly filtered photos and may invite you to one tailored meet-up—and then think that warrants deep affection? But that doesn’t sustain love in dating and it doesn't work with the ads you create. Some filtered images and copy can’t maintain love in the long-term—especially for people who have real problems and need a partner in solving them.
When I need help, my friends help me. But brands; How can I love you, if we're not even friends?
This concept arose in a 2022 panel at SXSW and vehemently stuck with me because of its resemblance to a Michael Bolton power ballad—but it's true. We can’t be lovers if we can’t be friends. And that’s SO clear to me as part of an LGBTQ+ community bombarded with rainbow washing. We're asking brands to stop funding politicians wielding policy that endangers trans youth—and they show us ads with celebrities. If you won't stop the funding, don't make the ads. Stop romancing me when you won't support me.
This June we'll once again read a ton of think-pieces about how "brands need to listen" to LGBTQ+ consumers. That's technically right, but it's frustrating because what we want isn't some secret insight. Listening should'’t be hard when we are SHOUTING AT YOU. WE KNOW YOU HEAR US. Now, you might leave a date "on read"… but you wouldn't do that to a friend, right?
Ask yourself, honestly: Does being a friend, as a brand, sound like a burden? It may sound like a lot for a friend to give you financial support... unless you consider that brands have done it. It sounds like a high bar that we’ve asked friends for mental health support... except when you consider that brands have done it. It sounds like a lot to expect a friend to offer an apology, except that Disney has done it. Certainly, don't woo us or "surprise and delight" us 🙄 unless you've stopped funding our political oppressors.
Brands, the meme-verse and pop culture are full of new ways you can be a better, healthier friend in modern times. Then, expect our love after you start acting like a friend.
These are the principles of modern friendship that brands can use to earn friendship before they can start entertaining the thought of brand love…
DO YOU HELP ME?
You've more than likely heard of rainbow washing, as it's been a dominant discussion point in matters of LGBTQ+ inclusion for marketers. And it speaks directly to a brand's tendency to woo rather than befriend. If you ask an LGBTQ+ person what kind of solutions they need, it’s highly unlikely they'll say, "I could really benefit from you wearing a flag for one month only." Help is a big differentiator between someone befriending you and someone wooing you. Yes, entertainment can be a helpful element of life, but so can information—on matters of our rights, healthcare and family support. If massive donations aren't helpful, you can be the friend that gives us guides, resources and a stage to vent. But of course, you’ll only provide these resources on our terms if you’ve listened. So...
DO YOU LISTEN TO ME?
I once disclosed to a boyfriend that I was upset about my weight. (This was before I had heard enough pop music about loving myself.) When I was in a bad mood, he bought me ice cream. Great for a romantic story; proof that he was not listening to me at all.
To brands who want to earn the trust that comes with friendship: what listening resources do you have in place to connect with our communities? What studies and forums do you tap or create, specifically to foster LGBTQ+ understanding? And maybe most importantly: what behavioral elements have you built into the creative process to make sure that the LGBTQ+ insights gleaned from these channels will be protected and placed front-and-center in the ideation of solutions? How do you make sure the way forward is not about straight takes on queer needs?
DO YOU MAKE AMENDS?
Y'all saw how Burger King got it wrong in 2022. This is after they got it very right in 2021. Burger King also apologized for 2022. Whereas a date might say, "I'm just being me, take it or leave it, but sorry you don't get my sense of humor," a friend will say: "Hey. I messed up, and I know what I did was wrong." And it's easier to forgive the friend because they have established that there are ups-and-downs to the relationship that only happen when you're committed to showing up.
I can't imagine a friendship where the vibe doesn't fluctuate, but that variation only happens because the friend shows up on a consistent basis—especially outside of June. Brands: if you're only wooing, and dipping your toe in the pool, that means you'll leave as soon as you find the temperature isn't perfect. Commitment means imperfection. Imperfection means occasional apology, and the friendships you earn can drive forgiveness and mutual support.
Lots of romantics like the idea that love happens when you look at who you've been with and all along. And see how they've supported you. Made your life better. Were trusted and dependable ... and then there's a spark that takes it to the next level.
Try that, instead of expecting love at first sight.