Standing Up and Standing Out: A Powerful Example of Effective Cause Marketing in the LGBTQ Market

A closeup shot of a woman, wearing a white shirt and a white hat, waving a rainbow Pride fan.

This Pride season, dozens of major brands partnered with community organizations on causes that are critical to the LGBTQ community, often moving beyond rainbow-inspired logo treatments to collaborative and impactful custom campaigns.

Given the rising popularity of cause marketing, this isn’t surprising, especially when you look at the changing psychographics and preferences of consumers. More than 1 in 3 LGBTQ adults say that a company’s social-consciousness is “very important” in choosing where they shop and what they buy, and among Q.Digital readers, that number rises to more than 1 in 2.

For brands hoping to execute effective cause marketing campaigns, there are countless successful examples from this past Pride, including Macy’s Pride + Joy, a campaign we were very proud to collaborate on.

Macy’s amplified the Trevor Project’s mission of crisis intervention for LGBTQ youth, using its resources to highlight the stories of those The Trevor Project has helped. It also donated a portion of its in-store and Pride collection proceeds to the organization.

A ton of brands have run similar campaigns, so why highlight this one? What made this campaign resonate with the community? What lessons can we learn?

Macy’s Walks the Walk When it Comes to Company Policies

The first thing brands need to ask when beginning to work on a cause marketing campaign is, “Do we walk the walk?” If you’re partnering with an organization that advocates for a mission that your internal policies don’t align with, that’s a red flag. You should know your company’s policies on causes or issues before engaging with them.

Part of what made the Pride + Joy campaign work is that Macy’s does walk the walk. The company has extensive workplace inclusion and anti-discrimination policies that protect and support LGBTQ employees, a comprehensive list of policies regarding pronouns in the workplace, and progressive policies handling verification of trans customers with a differing legal gender. The Human Rights Campaign named Macy’s one of the best places for LGBTQ people to work in 2019, and the company has consistently scored 100% on HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index.

Macy’s + The Trevor Project: A Match Made in Heaven?

For a cause marketing campaign to have an impact, a brand should choose a cause that genuinely connects with the brand’s mission. The campaign does not necessarily have to correlate with the brand’s products, and in fact, some say that the less the cause connects with the products, the better. As Sam Harrison, Macy’s Senior Director of Corporate Giving and Volunteerism says, “Macy’s believes in the power of fashion, celebration and community to touch the lives of our customers, colleagues and local communities. Macy’s core value of acceptance is reflected in our commitment to supporting the LGBT community and the fostering of an inclusive culture and environment that inspires our colleagues and customers to be their authentic self, every day.

If you’re familiar with The Trevor Project’s lifesaving mission, or follow the organization on Instagram, you can see how much Macy’s mission of encouraging people to be their authentic selves fits in. Although Macy’s and The Trevor Project go about this in very different ways, there is clear synergy between their overarching missions. I mean, what is fashion about if not for self-expression and authenticity, right?

In addition, engaging with the right cause requires an in-depth understanding of your consumers and the broader market. What do they care about? What do they want to see from you? What are they struggling with? It seemed that Macy’s had a pulse on these insights throughout the whole campaign, and selected a cause the resonated with its audience – as demonstrated by the money raised for the Trevor Project (more on that later). 

Macy’s Found the Balance Between Authenticity, Reach, and Influence

The Macy’s & Trevor Project partnership produced a PSA highlighting TV star and Harvard-freshman, Jazz Jennings, in addition to other real-life people who have been positively impacted by the group.

What made this PSA so powerful was the balance between having a star with name recognition and social influence, and those with equally powerful, real-life stories about how The Trevor Project has helped them not only survive but thrive, just without that same social influence.

Sometimes brands are so focused on ensuring reach – that millions of people see their message – that the actual message gets lost. The inclusion of Jazz Jennings here helped to ensure a large reach for the PSA, while simultaneously adding to the overall message by working in tandem with the stories of the other subjects. Her story and youth also made her a great choice as an influencer partner – since The Trevor Project serves LGBTQ youth.

In addition (and this is a bit of a plug, I’ll be honest), the Pride + Joy campaign tapped into the only major LGBTQ-owned media network (us), which furthered the campaign’s reach while showcasing Macy’s dedication to working with partners within the community–the ones who know the community best. Selecting the appropriate partners in a cause marketing campaign is vital, and for campaigns in the LGBTQ community, even more so.

Macy’s Represented the Often-Overlooked T in LGBTQ

Though the T for transgender has often been overlooked, not just by brands but by the community itself, trans-inclusion and representation is now at the forefront of many community conversations, which is amazing. There are huge strides in making this happen. Take Angelica Ross, for example, who just made history by becoming the first trans actress to land two series regular roles, and who founded TransTech – a venture highlighted in Queerty’s recent Tech Pride video series with Lexus.

By centering Jazz Jennings and other trans and non-binary voices in the campaign, Macy’s illustrated its dedication and recognition of the entire LGBTQ community and spectrum, rather than just a single silo.

For any brand engaging with the LGBTQ community, I would encourage you to ask how or if you are including the “T” in your work.

“Look at them!” vs. “Look at me!”

Throughout the multi-channel campaign, it seemed that Macy’s knew when to step forward, and when to step back. Though it might seem a bit counterintuitive, one of the tenants of effective cause marketing is that by shining the light on another person, cause or organization, you shine the best light back onto yourself. Cause marketing mandates a 180 from the traditional marketing impulse to say, “Look at me!” instead pivoting to, “Look at them!” This projects authenticity to the target audience, and shows that the brand – in this case Macy’s – is genuinely dedicated to using its resources in a positive way.

As an example, take this LGBTQ Nation article sponsored by Macy’s as part of the campaign, in which we interviewed Trevor volunteer, Miranda Rosenblum. In the 1,300+ word interview, there are only three mentions of Macy’s. Macy’s allowed for Miranda’s story and message to shine through.

Alternatively, for other portions of the campaign that weren’t directly related to the brand’s cause marketing, Macy’s knew when to be front and center – especially as it related to in-store traffic. They curated Pride events in stores nationwide, and worked with Queerty to drive awareness through branded content, traditional email marketing, and influencer partnerships with Marti Gould Cummings (who just announced her bid for NYC City Council) and John Halbach.

An Inside Job: Macy’s Engaged Its Own Team

As part of the overall campaign, Macy’s created and sold a custom line of Pride-inspired clothing, apparel, and accessories, with a portion of proceeds going to The Trevor Project. For this initiative, Macy’s engaged team member and menswear designer, Matthew Ossenfort, to help design the collection.

As Matthew said in an interview with LGBTQ Nation, “In 2010, there were a lot of high-profile news stories about suicide among LGBTQ kids due to bullying. I started researching organizations that were actively helping and that led me to The Trevor Project….I fell in love with the idea of helping young people who were at risk.”

The privilege of being able to combine your work and passion is rare, but critical to understanding younger consumers and employees. As large brands compete for top talent and recent college grads, remember that they are are identifying as LGBTQ and non-binary at far higher rates than previous generations. An effective cause marketing is not only a place to engage consumers, but internal teams, as well.

The Results

Early estimates reported that the Macy’s Pride + Joy Campaign raised over $1.2M for The Trevor Project, making the partnership one of the most financially impactful in the history of the organization. Beyond this, this report also estimated that the partnership helped spread awareness of the organization’s mission to over 6 Million people across the country.

Wow. We’d call that a pretty successful campaign 🙂

For more information or to donate to The Trevor Project, click here.


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