From Member Glen Peden, VP Group Creative Director, Momentum Worldwide, NY
I love Pride month and everything it represents—visibility, representation, respect and a celebration of diversity. As a gay man, I have been fortunate to witness so much progress in our fight for equality during my lifetime, but we still have a long way to go. Starting out in the industry back in the early 90s, it was unheard of for a brand to feature the “LG” let alone the “BTQ+” in their advertising or marketing efforts. Remember, we were still fighting the AIDs crisis, so showing positive role models in our community was totally taboo. As a creative director, having now worked in the brand marketing agency business for more than 30 years, I’ve seen an evolution of how brands either step away from or, gratefully more and more, embrace LGBTQ+ communities. Believe me, we take notice, and we support brands who authentically show up for us.
At my agency, Momentum Worldwide, we believe that it’s not what brands say, but what they do that matters. It’s time for brands that want to show up and embrace LGBTQ+ communities and the spending power we represent to extend beyond Pride month to build loyalty and make an impact with our community. Our purchasing power is inarguable—an estimated $3.7 trillion globally, according to LGBT Capital—so brands that go beyond “Rainbows for June” and instead work to capture the essence of LGBTQ+ culture will win our dollars again and again.
Pride isn’t just about rainbow apparel or corporate-sponsored parades, nor is it about slapping a graphic version of the rainbow on packaging or within advertising. The LGBTQ+ community is savvy, and they see through efforts that don’t seem intrinsic to the brand or are a one-and-done. While I truly do commend any brand that celebrates Pride, it’s important to remember that we are LGBTQ+ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, so celebrate us all year long and it will pay off. When we see ourselves in and believe in your brand, and, most importantly, believe that your brand is for us, you will gain our love and loyalty.
Back in 2014, one brand hit a strong cord with me and made a positive impact on our community with their bold stance on what was then referred to as the “glamorization of alternative lifestyles.” Honey Maid, a classic all-American cracker brand, created a campaign that celebrated what it means to be wholesome to modern-day families. The creative featured a diverse mix of different family units that were more representative of today’s world versus the old, traditional father, mother and children imagery. Unfortunately, there was a barrage of hateful and negative comments on the campaign from various opposing political and religious groups. The brand anticipated this and responded with a message of hope by surrounding those hateful comments with loving messages from people who supported the shift and saw the need for change. This was such a powerful example of how a brand believed in their message and was willing to stand up for equality for all.
Now, I will tell you I’ve seen many brands get it wrong when they feature the LGBTQ+ community, using stereotypes rather than normalizing our community. It’s so important that brands show up authentically and represent our community in a way that shows you “get” us.
One campaign that brought me to tears was Verizon’s “Love Calls Back.” The campaign focused on real phone calls featuring people coming out to family and friends, which is usually one of the most difficult and nerve-wracking moments in the lives of LGBTQ+ people. It was built around the insight that oftentimes it is easier for younger people to make their coming out pronouncements over the phone because sometimes these calls go well, but sometimes these calls are met with rejection, shaming and, in certain cases, these calls can be the last time people speak to a family member if they are not accepted as their true selves.
The Pew Research Center tells us that four out of 10 gay, lesbian and transgender people are rejected by family or friends. 40%! Verizon set out to help reopen the dialogue between family members that had been divided by a lack of acceptance. It started with a simple question: “what if a phone network famous for connecting people could use its power to reconnect people?” The campaign reuniting people via phone calls where “love calls back” was hugely effective and emotional, but it was also more than that. Verizon made a commitment to inspire thousands of families to reconnect. They partnered with long-term partner PFLAG, the nation’s first and largest organization founded to unite LGBTQ+ families, then counselled four families struggling with acceptance and encouraged them to call back and try again.
The result is the four-minute social film “Love Calls Back” that tells the true coming-out stories of four LGBTQ+ people and captures the moment their family picked up the phone to try again. The film launched during the Tony Awards and Twitter instantly reacted, with thousands sharing their own personal stories of reconciliation. This was more than a campaign; it was emotional journey of enlightenment. The film turned reconciliation into a national conversation and inspired over 69,000 families all over America to reach out to PFLAG and begin their own journeys of reconciliation.
Delta is another brand that supports their LGBTQ+ customer community very well. Every time I walk down the bridge to board my flight, a variety of diverse images of customers adorn the walls of the jetway. When I see pictures of gay couples on the walls, it is literally like rolling out a red carpet for me; it makes me feel like I’m accepted, greeted and welcomed to experience the Delta brand. Delta walks the walk to support my LGBTQ+ community by sponsoring events, illustrating diversity in all of their marketing and employee training materials, and supporting destinations and routes that specifically appeal to the LGBTQ+ community. They have truly converted me into a complete brand loyalist for life.
As we continue to make strides in our industry in representing the LGBTQ+ community, my ask from agencies is to make sure you have a diverse representation of talent to bring a personal perspective and connectivity to the brands we work on. The work will always be better. And my ask from brands is to make sure your actions align with your message year-round. Celebrate with us and remember how far we’ve come, but we can do much more. Let’s work together to make our Pride brand efforts authentic and representative of the total universe of customers who support them. LGBTQ+ equity and representation can and should stretch beyond the month of June. Let’s make the rainbow span the entire calendar from January to December! Happy Pride and beyond!
Glen oversees Shopper Marketing creative direction for North America. He works on Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s. Glen has led the development of thousands of Shopper and Consumer Activation programs throughout his 30+ year career in the marketing industry and has worked across a variety of CPG brands like Unilever, Bayer Consumer Care, J.M. Smucker Company, Del Monte Foods and Hasbro.