Cause Marketing: Are You Ready for Your Brand Marathon?

After same-sex marriage was recently legalized across the U.S., social media became awash in rainbows in support of the historic ruling. Companies and organizations as varied as American Airlines, Arizona Iced Tea and PETA were quick to use visual ways to align themselves with the LGBT community.

Consumers did, too, as Facebook provided a simple way to turn profile photos rainbow-colored. More than 1 million people changed their profile in the first few hours, according to Facebook spokesperson William Nevius, and the number continues to grow.

This wasn’t the first time social media accounts have used color to rally behind a cause. After the Sandy Hook school shooting, some people and companies turned yellow, and the tech community went black to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, the bill that would have allowed the U.S. government to shut down websites.

So when did -- or does -- the rainbow become washed out? Wired, “delighted by the news,” took their rainbow down after the first few days of the legalization because they considered it a happy snapshot in time, rather than long-term rebranding.

“There’s a danger of jumping on the bandwagon,” says Allen Adamson, North American chairman of the brand consulting agency Landor. “Removing the rainbow too soon might seem insensitive to the long fight leading to this moment. But keeping it up without demonstrating more support for the cause could be construed as opportunistic. Once a company has jumped, as many have over the last few days, it needs to figure out if it’s up for a lengthy ride. If they really believe in this cause, they’ve got to stay committed to it beyond its trending on Google Analytics.”

@BelindaLanks @WIRED
Are they serious about LGBT support or just trying to profit from the excitement of the day? I'd be interested in seeing how many of these brands have donated to political candidates or PACs that support antigay politicians and the like.

Same-sex relationships and families are increasingly accepted by the general public, and more and more companies are joining the LGBT-friendly bandwagon. This is more than philosophical; it makes good business sense: the LGBT community held $884 million in buying power according to a 2014 National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce estimate. And, a study from Experian Marketing Services found the average income of people in a same-sex relationship is significantly higher than those in a heterosexual partnership.

Many companies like Apple, Ben & Jerry’s, Gap and Nike have been vocal and earnest supporters of the LGBT community. But some companies are on the down low. Take Costco, for example. The membership only national grocer does not advertise their support at all. The company has been a leader in the equality movement both externally and internally, receiving an impressive 95% rating from the 2014 Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

When companies get it right, they not only gain the business of LGBT consumers, they gain the loyalty of the community and connect with consumers who see the inclusion of gay people in a brand’s communication as a sign of a progressive and fair company.

So what does this mean to marketers?
When it comes to cause marketing, brands must understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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