Brands, It's Time to Take Pride in Your DEI Purpose
The right thing to do is almost never easy. But if you let your brand take a stance and have the courage of your convictions, then you could earn the right to become a part of history. More importantly, your brand will earn the respect of a generation, which will transcend a transactional moment. It wasn't too long ago that Nike (and Colin) said, "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." While Nike has had its ups and downs, it continues to "Be True" to its diversity commitment, boosting its popularity across the globe.
Unfortunately, many brands seem to have forgotten that Pride is a movement, not a moment; a purposeful movement that has stood up against ignorance, fear and hatred. For the last few years, we've seen an abundance of virtue-signaling and purpose-washing from companies eager to appropriate this storyline (and others) and remain relevant to increasingly diverse, younger consumers.
And yet, this year, it has become obvious that not all brands hold inclusion as a core value or even understand/empathize with the ideals they claim to support. Some brands quickly canceled their Pride initiatives, while others chose to stand silent as the very same values of diversity and inclusion they claim to honor and hold central to their mission are questioned by right-wing conservatives. While their strategic brand foundation documents might be flooded with words like purpose, mission and character, their actions speak louder than words.
It's time for brands to remember that the actions of a hate-filled few do not reflect the values of the majority of consumers regardless of race, gender or orientation. The numbers speak for themselves. According to a 2022 study commissioned by Amazon, 72 percent of consumers expect to vote with their dollars and support brands that are "good citizens." Sixty-four percent are more likely to purchase a brand that takes a stand on social issues and conflicts.
However, it’s not just about marketing and consumerism. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly one in five members of Gen Z self-identify as LGBTQ+ and nearly two-thirds describe themselves as deeply concerned about the future of LGBTQ+ rights. This generation is going to be making up the core of our workforce very soon, if they haven't done so already. Any decisions brands make relating to their stance on such issues that matter to this generation will have consequences far into the future.
While issues of diversity and inclusion have suddenly plummeted from being a "core value" of companies to a nice set of words that sometimes stand for (and stand by) nothing, a handful of brands remain true to their commitments.
As brands and retailers have backed away from their Pride initiatives when faced with backlash, The North Face held strong in defending its partnership with drag queen Pattie Gonia for their "Summer of Pride" campaign. In a statement to Newsweek, company said: "We recognize the opportunity our brand has to shape the future of the outdoors and we want that future to be a more accepting and loving place." That's purpose put into practice at its best.
Activision Blizzard is the most recent to step up to support its LGBTQ+ gamers, pulling Faze Clan streamer Nickmerc's "skin" when he issued an offensive tweet. Call of Duty offered non-binary player character options and in-game LGBTQ+ banners. Overwatch 2 has taken increased steps to expand representation for queer players.
They stood their ground. Showed strength of character. Brands that follow suit earn not just interest, but respect. That makes them impossible to ignore.
In a nation that is as divided as America, it is hard for brands to align with consumer values without alienating half the country, especially when it comes to socio-cultural issues. It can also be challenging to be the steward of both the brand's purpose and the brand’s business especially if the business is driven by an audience with very different values. Strategy is all about making choices but once that choice is made, brands need to have the character to acknowledge it not run from it.
Silence and apathy are the enemies of progress and positive change. A silent brand on the sidelines of an important cultural conversation is a brand that is meaningless at best and irrelevant at worst.
Every brand wants to be relevant in culture. Those that adopt a point of view AND stand by it are the ones that will stand the test of time.