How to Defeat Tone-Deaf Marketing

Pride Month is a great time to take a look at how brands and society can mutually benefit from supporting a cause, that is, if the support is sincere. On the other hand, if you join in on a movement while at the same time undercutting it’s message the campaign could backfire.

According to Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the media watchdog group GLAAD, “Brands need to approach Pride not as a marketing moment to sell products and profit from LGBTQ people, but as a time to loudly use their reach and influence to affirm our community and support advocacy organizations in authentic and impactful ways.” 

In other words, if you are going to take part in a movement or cultural event, make sure that your intentions are genuine. Take a look at your motivation and values. If they don’t line up the spirit of the event—it would be better to sit that one out. 

For example, when Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch InDev) slaps a rainbow on their beer cans and highlight the L, B, G, & T in the name it looks like they are showing support for LGBTQIA community but if you take a look at their policies it tells a different story. Anheuser-Busch has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 since 2015 to 29 lawmakers who have supported conservative bills on trans rights issues. 

This blatant hypocrisy prompted the owners of the Stonewall Inn (the birthplace of the Gay Rights movement in the US) to stage a “pour out” where they refufused to sell Anheuser-Busch products during Pride and instead pour the product down the drain. 

“You can’t turn your logo rainbow on social media, call yourself an ally, and then turn around and make donations that fuel hate.” —Stacy Lentz, Co-Owner of the Stonewall Inn

On the other hand, if the brand’s advocacy is sincere, they can provide an invaluable platform to further the fight for LGBTQ equity and inclusivity. 

One standout in the advocacy category is Skittles. Known for their slogan “Taste the Rainbow” they have issued special packaging for Pride month relinquishing their hallmark colors and replacing them with shades of gray and the motto “Only one rainbow matters during Pride”. They will also be donating $100,000 to GLAAD. 

Happy Socks took it a step further by donating their entire $20,000 budget for their Pride campaign to InterPride, an organization promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex communities around the world. They’re also launching a new Pride line of rainbow-centric socks where 10% of the proceeds will also be donated to InterPride. 

The rules of authentic marketing are simple. Your actions need to align with your values. Here are some simple guidelines to ensure your success.

  1. Be socially and culturally aware. 

Brands jump on the bandwagon by adding their voice to trending topics, debates, or hashtags but sometimes they get it wrong and their tone-deaf messaging ends up alienating their target audience.

  1. Choose your causes wisely.

As a brand, it’s important to know what you stand for but if you try to stand for everything and jump on every bandwagon, you could end up looking confused and desperate for attention. Pick one or two and do it right. 

  1. See the people, not the dollars.

Stop focusing on making money and, instead, see how you can help. Helping is always more welcome than selling.

  1. Keep up with current events.

Make sure you know what’s going on in the world and be aware of how your messages might be perceived in relation to current issues and events. For example, dropping a new product with a “BOOM!” could seem insensitive if it happens to coincide with reports of a bombing.

  1. Listen, listen, and most importantly, listen.

The term “tone-deaf” implies that a brand is not listening to their audience. Listen to your customers and your colleagues. Do your research and ask the people in the community you’re speaking to about how your policies and campaigns make them feel. Marketing is a conversation, not a declaration. 

What examples of tone-deaf marketing have you seen? What causes are your brand going to support? If you need help with the alignment, research, or creative campaign, call a Liger.