Two Steps Forward

Two Steps Forward

  • Brand Newsletter

In this month’s newsletter, we’re recalling the roots of the LGBTQ+ Pride movement, highlighting how much work is still to be done in the relentless march toward social justice for all people, and celebrating the brands who have discovered that the best way to put people first in their marketing is to stand by those people and commit to creating safe and inclusive environments — even in the face of resistance — all year long.

Where we stand today

“June is bustin’ out all over,” to quote the musical theatre composers Rodgers and Hammerstein, and June means a focus on celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride. Pride famously began as a riot, with members of the LGBTQ+ community pushing back against ages of institutionalized harassment and prejudice.

A survey of history will show that to some degree progress is inevitable. Frustratingly, that inevitability often feels like two steps forward, one step back. It’s important to remember that those two steps forward are the result of people coming together to speak up for equal rights and speak out against discrimination. This month, If Brands Put People First is celebrating those brands who, inspired by the social justice warriors of the past, have proven their commitment to LGBTQ+ progress even in the face of withering and anachronistic backlash and criticism.

Earlier this year, global corporate beverage powerhouse Anheuser-Busch teamed with trans TikTok influencer Dylan Mulvaney on their Easy Carry Contest campaign, offering customers the chance to win $15,000 for uploading videos of themselves carrying as many cans of beer as possible. Mulvaney, as the face of the campaign, posted her own sponsored video in which she appears dressed in an homage to actress Audrey Hepburn and with an armful of Bud Light beer cans, including a special can that features her face and the slogan “Cheers to 365 Days of Being a Woman.” Two steps forward.

The negative response from the political right was fast and furious, and escalated to a degree so extreme and outlandish that country music personality Kid Rock filmed himself shooting up a case of Bud Light in protest and Texas senator Ted Cruz reportedly attempted to open a Senate investigation into the relationship between Anheuser-Busch and Mulvaney. In response to the backlash, Anheuser-Busch released a statement publicly distancing the company from the Mulvaney campaign, empowering the internet’s newest zeitgeist: “Bud Lighting”, the attempt to boycott companies that support “woke” causes, and particularly transgender issues. One step back.

“Bud Lighting” is now running rampant across social media, with socially conservative pundits, influencers, and everyday Americans pushing back against campaigns as diverse as Adidas’ gender-affirming swimwear, Target’s line of Pride-positive clothing created by queer designers Ash & Chess, and a North Face campaign spotlighting drag artist and environmentalist Pattie Gonia.

Target, most recently in the news for caving to the pressures of Bud Lighting and relocating its Pride merchandise from the front of the store to the rear, is now, like Anheuser-Busch, feeling the burn from both sides: relentless social conservatives continue to blast brands for their inclusive campaigns while countless others are speaking out against and boycotting the brands for caving to those pressures.

In the weeks following the controversies, the share price of both Anheuser-Busch and Target declined.

One foot in front of the other

In contrast with Anheuser-Busch and Target, North Face, after being on the receiving end of a similarly aggressive Bud Lighting effort in response to their campaign featuring drag artist Pattie Gonia, stood up for and stood by their decision to promote and celebrate the lives of LGBTQ+ people in their marketing, releasing a statement on Instagram that reads:

“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. We’re partnering with Pattie because we believe the outdoors are for everyone. The North Face online community is designed to be a safe, positive and inclusive environment. It’s why we have a zero-tolerance policy against racist, discriminatory, threatening, abusive, harmful, vulgar or attacking social media comments, which will be removed immediately.”

In recognition of their two steps forward, social media has been overwhelmingly supportive of North Face, calling for increased spending on the company’s products:

Pride, above all, is about taking a stand against prejudice, even in the face of conflict. It’s an opportunity for people to dispense with politics and to put other people — and their humanity — first.

North Face’s staunch refusal to back down in the face of prejudice — their two steps forward — proves that brands also benefit when they put people first. And not only in June, but every month of the year. When more brands start to act with the courage and conviction demonstrated by North Face, the era of two steps forward, one step back might finally come to an end, replaced at last by a relentless march toward justice for all. Happy Pride!

That’s the power of putting people first in your marketing.