Marketing with Pride or a Case of Rainbow Washing

Every time I open my social media at the moment, I am faced with the wall of rainbows to support Pride Month. It initially made my heart leap with pride to know that so many companies and organisations were supporting the LBGTQ+ community. However, as the layers got peeled away, it is often found that for some companies, Pride month is an opportunity to show superficial support, and seen as a marketing tool to cash in on the ‘Pink Pound’. So when does flying the flag turn into a case of ‘rainbow washing’, and more importantly, how can you show true allyship?

June was chosen as Pride Month to mark the Stonewall Riots in New York that began on 28 June 1969. These were spontaneous demonstrations by the LGBTQ+ community after a police raid on a gay bar, The Stonewall Inn. These demonstrations were marked a year later with the first Pride marches in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and had the feel of a rally. Pride marches have since spread across the world and the message around equality has evolved as each change comes. It is important to remember that Pride is more than a party, it is a movement for change.

This is where companies who ignore the importance of the message behind Pride start to come unstuck. Promoting Pride is more than just adding a rainbow logo to your brand or product. It is about implementing the values Pride has and following them through all aspects of the business.

In 2018, Primark faced criticism over its Pride range of merchandise that went on sale. Partnering with Stonewall, the range of t-shirts, caps and other accessories were sold with 20 per cent of the proceeds going to the LGBTQ+ charity. However, the items were made in China, Myanmar and Turkey, which are all countries that have poor LGBTQ+ rights records.

With the growing number of companies flying the Pride flag, there is a growing awareness of ‘rainbow washing’ from those with the LGBTQ+ community. The best definition I have found came from Urban Dictionary and it hits the nail right on the head:

The act of using or adding rainbow colours and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, et cetera, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility)–but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.

One of the best examples I can use for this is the LGBT sandwich from M&S back in 2019. This lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato sandwich was sold only for June to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Despite M&S donating £10,000 in profits from the sandwich to the LGBTQ+ homeless charity, The Albert Kennedy Trust, the lack of connection between the sandwich to the LGBTQ+ community saw M&S face a social media backlash. There were also questions asked about M&S opening stores in countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

So what would be the best advice we would offer to get your Pride marketing right? It is simply to show that you are always standing up for the LGBTQ+ community and not just in June. This doesn’t mean adding rainbows in every piece of marketing you do but instead showing that you are inclusive. Some of the things you could do as a brand are:

  • Include a same-sex couple in ads
  • Change the language of your brand by not using binary gender terms
  • Implement an inclusive policy in your workplace
  • Donate to LGBTQ+ organisations and charities
  • Think about your supply chain and look into if they share your values

The most important thing is to be consistent in your approach and be confident. It is not just about showing pride but being proud. There may be some backlash from certain parts of your audience, but you must prepare for how you want to handle this.

Showing pride in your approach to inclusivity and diversity can prove to be highly successful. It will help in creating an authentic Pride marketing campaign, but it will also highlight your business as a champion that people will want to buy from time and again and one that individuals will want to work for.

For any advice on marketing campaigns for Pride month or any time of year, give us a call on 01522 708855 or drop us an email.