Updated: Sep 8
Pride Month may be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean the end of uplifting LGBTQ+ voices across the globe. The month we dedicate to it is an important time for celebrating acceptance, equality, and inclusion. It’s about raising awareness of issues surrounding people’s freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity. But what we do outside of this month is equally as important.
In this post, we explore the issues surrounding rainbow washing and look at examples of successful #PrideMonth campaigns. Join us and find out how marketers doing a better job in supporting the LGBTQ+ community leads not only to a more inclusive world but to increased brand impact too.
Rainbow washing – is it effective or harmful?
Changing your logo to include rainbow colours isn't necessarily rainbow washing. Rainbow washing refers to organizations using rainbow colours and imagery in their advertising, communications, social media, products, and so on without the meaningful actions and practices to back it up. It has become something of a ritual in recent years. But is it enough? How much is it valued by the LGBTQ+ community today?
When a company makes shallow gestures to appear as if they support the movement for equality, but in reality doesn’t contribute meaningfully, that is classic rainbow-washing. From a branding perspective, they get to portray themselves as being at the forefront of pushing for LGBTQ+ rights, but don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting or real work.
Pat Law, Creative Director and Founder, Good Stuph | SOURCE: Vogue
Waving the rainbow flag does show support during #PrideMonth. It rallies the world around a symbol of the community and brings people together. But from a brand reputation perspective, it is not enough anymore. With so many organizations jumping on the bandwagon of updating their profile pictures and painting their products with rainbow colours, this gesture of support has become somewhat diluted. Many in the community now see it merely as a way to push sales instead of spreading real awareness. Ed Watson, Founder of WeArePrew, calls this the “pot of gold; at the end of the rainbow”. Similarly, Georado Bandera, writing for Fair Planet, compares it to “greenwashing” – a term used for companies that claim to be eco-friendly while still supporting environmentally damaging practices and policies.
So, how can we make sure we continue to support the LGBTQ+ community in a meaningful way without slipping into rainbow washing?
In a survey conducted by GlobalWebIndex, it was revealed that consumers want brands to take part in educating people about LGBTQ+ issues. The survey was taken by 10,000 people in Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US.
46% of respondents think brands that are engaged in educating their audience are supportive and respectful and 35% believe they are modern.
This can be seen in H&M’s Beyond the Rainbow campaign which launched in 2021 to encourage those in the LGBTQIA+ community to share their own personal stories through a web app.
The survey also showed that consumers want to see brands creating and engaging with LGBTQ+ initiatives outside of #PrideMonth.
67% of respondents agreed that brands should support the community throughout the year.
A great example of this can be seen with HubSpot. In addition to boasting a diverse and inclusive work environment on their careers page, the company’s “LGBTQ Alliance” celebrates Pride year-round with various global initiatives.
It’s important that companies show genuine support for inclusivity and diversity in the workplace – and market themselves as such. As Chandreyee Ray writes for Vogue: “An inclusive company culture—and by extension, an inclusive brand image—starts from the inside.” It’s important to note that not every company featuring rainbows in their branding is trying to capitalize on the LGBTQ+ community. But more can be done. Teo Yu Sheng highlights that it could be improving company diversity policies, having your insurance cover LGBTQ+ folks, ensuring your workplace is safe for transgender employees to be out, and so on.
How can we as marketers, then, help to champion LGBTQ+ voices in our branding – both during Pride and beyond?
How to market for the LGBTQ+ community successfully
As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Let’s take a look at some of the creative marketing campaigns that reached beyond rainbow marketing this #PrideMonth.
Penguin Random House
Penguin Random House’s LGBTQ+ Network and Consumer Marketing Team partnered with their authors this Pride to launch Pride in Your Words, the publishing company’s very first zine. Its goal is to creatively spotlight queer authors to create meaningful and lasting connections with its readers and celebrate books and storytelling during Pride and throughout the year. Providing a platform for queer authors enables them to share their lived experiences with others and opens opportunities for more inclusive publications.
Storytelling is a powerful tool for the LGBTQ+ community, as we discovered in our recent podcast interview with Sab Samuel, AKA Aida H Dee, Founder of Drag Queen Story Hour UK. Sab tours with other drag queens, providing fun and interactive kids shows in libraries across the UK reading diverse stories to children while teaching inclusivity.
American fashion and accessory brand Fossil launched a Pride-themed collection of wristwatches for this year’s Pride. But it doesn’t end there, as the company is donating at least US$100,000 to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth.
As part of its support, Fossil is also encouraging people “to learn and act” with its #TakeAMinute campaign to provide its LGBTQ+ brand partners and employees a platform to talk about Pride, pronouns, allyship, and more.
Gymshark’s “Pride in Progress” campaign is showcasing inspirational stories from the community and seeking to break down the idea that fitness environments are judgemental. The company openly recognized that we need to do more beyond Pride Month and announced its commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ folk in fitness throughout the year and years ahead.
Giving the people behind an organization's brand a platform creates resonance and authenticity. As our CEO Lou says, "People sell to people, not companies to people".
Showing support for Pride requires brands to reach beyond the rainbow. It’s about educating, acceptance, and inclusivity. It’s ensuring those voices are being heard and celebrating all sexual orientations and gender identities not just in June, but always.
Ask yourself if your corporate culture remains inclusive beyond the month of June. If it doesn’t, then it is time to take a good hard look at how you drive change in your own house.
Pat Law, Creative Director and Founder, Good Stuph | SOURCE: Vogue
Change and progress begin from within the company by ensuring the work environment is a safe space for everyone to have the freedom to be themselves. This can be done by reviewing company diversity policies and establishing an employee resource group that supports activities related to LGBTQ+ issues, acts as the voice of its LGBTQ+ customers and employees, and creates initiatives that help advocate for inclusion and equality.
Here are some helpful resources we found during this research to help continue your learning: