A recent report by Popular Information has revealed that a number of major companies in the US across different industries who promote a pro-LGBTQIA+ public stance, have allegedly also provided funding to anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and lawmakers. This has sparked a backlash from consumers and activist groups, including from Stonewall Inn, a historic New York bar that is credited as the birthplace of the US Gay Rights movement and location of the 1969 Stonewall riots.

The Stonewall riots were the response to a police raid against the establishment in June of that year, which led to a series of protests by members of the gay community, paving the way for what we now know as Pride Month. Notably, over the last few years, social movements have resurfaced in the public eye; the Orlando Nightclub shooting in 2016, where a famous gay bar was targeted leading to the death of 49 patrons, brought the LGBTQIA+ narrative back to the forefront. More recently, transgender rights and issues have been in the spotlight, with anti-transgender legislation being debated among several US states. It’s clear that LGBTQIA+ history is complex in the US. And this is even more so when consumer-facing companies are involved. The announcement of company funding to politicians backing such legislation, for instance, has led Stonewall to pause sales of certain beer brands during Pride weekend as part of the ‘Keep your Pride’ campaign. Company backing of certain politicians or political groups that promise to protect industry interests is not new, however, consumer visibility of these activities is, and brands need to understand this consumer landscape going forward.

Naturally, this is a polarising issue and one that can be difficult for brands in the Consumer Goods sector to navigate. However, the promotion of equality and diversity through corporate social responsibility (CSR) is significant to consumer sentiment. According to GlobalData’s 2021 Q1 consumer survey, 27% of US consumers have highlighted that claims of supporting social causes are a decisive factor in their choice of product – with this rising to 32% for consumers aged 16 to 34 years – highlighting a substantial space in the market for brands to align with social justice movements and socially responsible operations. In an age where social media is rife, and information – whether substantiated or not – can travel the world in a matter of minutes, brands are at risk of coming under increasing scrutiny if social causes or issues are perceived to be ignored or belittled.

Companies can isolate the very consumer groups they are attempting to resonate with if their marketing activities are deemed disingenuous or as ‘pinkwashing’. This can create backlash against the brand, stir up criticism and lead to boycotts, as seen with the Stonewall Inn case. However, when cause-marketing is implemented successfully, it can create opportunities to appeal to marginalised groups as well as the wider public and build brand trust. As there is a gap between consumer knowledge and brand activity, brands that take a proactive approach to offer information on their operations via consistent messaging and transparency will be met with a positive reception.

In line with inclusivity trends, consumers are moving towards products and brands that promote individualisation and expression; in the long-term, this has potential to drive growth for producers and brands that are actively seen engaging in social causes and promoting products that are produced by communities such as LGBTQ+ groups. Consistency in messaging is essential, as dual or inconsistent company stances can run the risk of alienating not just certain consumers or communities, but also a wider, socially aware and increasingly inclusive consumer base.