How brands hope to reach gamers using thoughtful messaging during Pride Month — without pandering

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With Pride Month in full swing, brands are seizing on opportunities to reach gamers via thoughtful messaging that resonates with marginalized groups. But marketers still need to tread lightly if they want to reach gamers outside the straight-white-male mold without coming across as pandering or inauthentic in the cultural and political landscape of 2023.

In North America, brands have chased the “pink dollar” for decades, recognizing the significant and growing buying power of the LGBTQ+ community. But longstanding misconceptions about the gaming community’s lack of diversity have historically led brands to focus much of these efforts in other areas. By now, though, the gaming population has grown to a diverse audience of over 3 billion, and gaming companies such as Microsoft and Riot Games have recognized this in 2023 by rolling out a multitude of Pride-themed ad campaigns.

Gamers are a diverse group that is willing to engage with brands — 10 percent of gamers are LGBTQ+, according to a 2020 Nielsen study — but brands’ diversity messaging can often fall flat, with Pride activations coming across as more of a cash grab than a genuine effort to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ gamers.

“It’s great that there’s a DEI lens being applied — but I definitely think that there is absolutely pandering, and marketing efforts that last one month of the year, especially in North America,” said Justin Moore, a Twitch ambassador and co-founder of Rainbow Arcade, an LGBTQ+ streaming community.

Brands’ use of marketing to support marginalized individuals is a particular flashpoint this year, as conservative backlash to DEI-themed brand activations such as Bud Light’s partnership with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney have led some companies to pull back on their Pride marketing in 2023.

Diverse gamers should actually benefit

For LGBTQ+ gamers, simply slapping a rainbow logo onto a social post or changing a brand’s Twitter profile picture to a Pride-themed variant no longer cuts it. Nowadays, just about every brand recognizes its LGBTQ+ customers in this way — now, they need to prove that they can bring tangible change to gamers’ lives. 

Verta Maloney, the co-founder and chief innovation officer of the gameHERS awards, called out Benefit Cosmetics’ running of all-female esports tournaments as one example of a notable and beneficial brand activation in this space.

“They’ve just been pretty thoughtful about how they’ve chosen to enter the space, just trying to understand which games they think their core audience might be into,” Maloney said.

It can’t just be one month of the year

When brands spin up a suite of campaigns or brand activations pegged to the diversity flavor of the month, only to drop it after 30 days — whether the theme is Pride, Black History or another alternative — gamers take note. Sega’s fundraiser with Kaleidoscope Trust, for one example, ends on June 30.

Ongoing partnerships like the recently signed relationship between Xbox and GLAAD generate more goodwill than one-off activations.

“Every little bit is great, but we also can’t become complacent,” Moore said. “The mark is really, are these brands activating for Pride Month — because I think that’s expected now, more than anything else — or do they walk the walk and talk the talk year-round, and do I see myself represented in a way that I think is authentic to the community that means so much to me?”

DEI and creative departments must work in tandem

Marketing activations geared toward specific marginalized demographics can be a challenge because they fall under the umbrella of two disparate groups among gaming-minded advertisers: diversity and equity teams, whose job is to ensure that content plays well to minority audiences, and creative teams, whose job is to make something that looks cool and resonates with gamers. Often, it’s the latter that has the final say over all activations — but some observers believe this order should be flipped when it comes to Pride Month and other diversity-based campaigns.

“When marketers or creative teams are executing campaigns, they usually are focused on the ‘cool factor’ of their idea, and they have the final say,” said Alyssa Sweetman, former head of social impact at Twitch. “The role of a DEI expert isn’t to check that there is one of every background represented in a photo or campaign. DEI experts are there to help ensure things land the way they’re intended, because intention is invisible, but impact is reality.”

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