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Reflecting on 9 Years of Pride Month Marketing: Brand Evolution, Successes, and Challenges

Allison Andres
June 6, 2024

We’re just one year out from the 10th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. Where big brands once ignored the LGBTQ+ community, this court decision opened doors for businesses to intentionally seek out and market to queer audiences. 

Since then, brands have played a significant role – for better or worse – in shaping the narrative around Pride Month every June. 

Take a journey with us to explore how Pride Month marketing has evolved over the years. We’re diving into the biggest successes, the biggest failures, and where brands need to go from here. 

Early Years of Pride Month Marketing

The Obergefell v. Hodges decision ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. In the early years following this decision, Pride Month marketing efforts from brands were often superficial and lacked genuine engagement with LGBTQ+ communities. 

The rainbow-washing had begun. Brands were often releasing new versions of their products covered in rainbows or cringey Pride-related designs. What was missing? Significant contributions to the LGBTQ+ community. 

Let’s take a look at a couple brand campaigns from past years that embody this early sentiment around Pride Month marketing.

Skittles, 2016 

For Pride in London, Skittles briefly redesigned their packaging and candy to black and white, in the name of “giving up their rainbow.” 

For years, Skittles had already been centering their advertising on their slogan “Taste the Rainbow.” But when the opportunity came along to play up the Pride Month rainbow aesthetic, the brand took a more creative route. “Only one rainbow matters,” their campaign said. 

We won’t lie, the messaging was smart. We’ll give them props for doing more than just slapping an extra rainbow on top of their normal rainbow and calling it a day. 

But by sacrificing their signature branding in the name of giving the spotlight to the LGBTQ+ community, Skittles played a performative martyr role. It was giving “Look at how great of allies we are”-vibes. In essence they were explicitly acknowledging the queer community, but mostly promoting a gimmicky product without meaningful action.

Spoiler alert: we see Skittles evolve this campaign over the years as cultural mindsets and standards start to shift. More on that later. 

Burger King, 2022

In June 2022, the Instagram account for Burger King Austria shared a post advertising their Whopper with either two top buns or two bottom buns.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by BURGER KING® Österreich (@burgerkingaustria)

(Note that the post is still live. Brave.)

The post went viral, and not in a good way. Criticism for this post came from across the globe, with queer individuals calling the post tone-deaf. 

The agency behind the post issued an apology, saying they “didn’t check well enough with community members on different interpretations of the Pride Whopper.”

With this apology, however, came feedback from some LGBTQ LinkedIn users actually defending the ad. “People need to take a joke and not have a competition of who can be the wokest of the woke. If I was at your agency, it would have my big gay approval,” said one commenter. 

Needless to say, this Instagram post created a lot of division in both the LGBTQ+ community and the marketing industry. How far is too far? Is edgy humor allowed to play a role in Pride Month marketing? How deeply should LGBTQ+ people be consulted before these campaigns go live? These are all difficult questions that marketers today must face. 

Let’s take a look at some examples of how these questions might be answered. 

Recent Evolutions of Pride Month Marketing 

With years of trial and error under their belts, many brands have continued to improve their Pride Month digital campaigns, especially as consumers expect more significant, thoughtful campaigns. 

Time to revisit our good friends at Skittles. 

Skittles, 2023

In the years after their first “give back the rainbow” campaign, Skittles has stepped up their game. They have contributed profits from their Pride packs to LGBTQ+ organizations and began to partner with LGBTQ+ individuals. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by SKITTLES (@skittles)

For Pride Month in 2023, Skittles launched their campaign, “There’s a story in every rainbow.” 

The brand partnered with queer artists to design special edition packs of Skittles. They also partnered with non-profit GLAAD to uplift the real stories of LGBTQ people. 

Seven years out from their original Pride marketing, Skittles has come a long way. They’ve worked to de-center themselves and instead give the spotlight to queer artists and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard. 

Abercrombie, 2023 

The rise of influencer marketing has opened up new opportunities for brands to join in on Pride Month marketing while centering queer voices. 


PROUD YEAR-ROUND 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️ @abercrombie • what an absolute honor to be in company with such incredible people in our community celebrating who we are and who we love ❤️ #abercrombiepartner #prideyearround #transman #lgbtqiaplus #transpride #pride

♬ original sound – Luke Wesley Pearson

For Pride Month last year, Abercrombie partnered with trans TikTok influencer Luke Wesley Pearson to do a photoshoot with their Pride collection, prompting behind-the-scenes footage. 

Influencer marketing is impactful for boosting credibility and connecting with your audience in a more genuine way. This marketing tactic from Abercrombie is a great example of how consumers resonate more with influencers than in-your-face rainbow washing from brands. 

The North Face, 2023

In a year when drag was under attack in politics, The North Face stood their ground with the community by partnering with drag performer Pattie Gonia. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pattie Gonia (@pattiegonia)

Other brands that have tried to use humor in their Pride Month marketing have faced negative feedback. This campaign allows Pattie Gonia’s personality and comic skills to shine, using humor in a way that genuinely connects with the target audience. 

Present and Future Challenges for Pride Month Marketing

Consumers are holding brands to higher standards, expecting to see monetary contributions to LGBTQ+ organizations and collaborations with queer influencers. They’re also calling for brands to celebrate Pride and uplift queer voices throughout the entire year, not just when it’s convenient in June. 

Bottom line? People want to see that brands actually care and are making a legitimate difference.

However, recent political shifts have made matters harder for brands. 

In 2023, a record 510 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in legislatures across the United States – nearly three times that in 2022. There have been heavy focuses on attacking healthcare for transgender youth, restricting discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, and banning drag performances. 

These far-right sentiments have made deep impacts on the world of marketing. In May 2023, Target’s Pride Month merchandise received violent criticism from conservatives online, calling for boycotts of the store and even making threats against employees

In response, Target pulled Pride Month from some of its stores, prompting criticism from the LGBTQ community. This year, Target announced once again they’d only sell their Pride merch online and in select stores. 

This is one of the biggest challenges brands face in today’s cultural and political climate. What’s the perfect balance between being true allies in the fight for LGBTQ rights and avoiding backlash? 

The truth is, brands must decide what they care about more: profits or people. 

Looking for more insights on the evolution of digital marketing and how your brand can level up? Reach out to our team at Random below. 

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