When June comes around, you may notice a wave of rainbows across the web and social media. These colours are for Pride Month, which celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community, their pride, their rights, and their ongoing struggles in society.
Over the past few years, more and more brands have been participating in this celebration, by creating rainbow versions of their logos, bringing out Pride-themed product lines, and decorating their shops with bright colours.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this trend is entirely positive. And it can be. But go too far and these attempts to showcase your brand as inclusive and supportive of equal rights can harm your brand image. You’re rainbow-washing.
But what exactly is rainbow-washing, and how can you avoid this particular pitfall?
What Is Rainbow-Washing?
For those of you who aren’t fully familiar with Pride Month, let’s start with an introduction.
Pride commemorates the Stonewall uprising, which occurred in 1969 in Greenwich Village. Stonewall was a series of riots led by Marsha P. Johnson and other trans women of colour as a response to police brutality against the LGBTQIA+ community.
Pride celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community and their cultural, political, and environmental impact on the world, as well as recognising the struggles they still face today.
Rainbow-washing is a term for a marketing tactic where brands use performative activism for commercial gain. Brands will commodify their support for the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month, without taking any further action to demonstrate their support.
To put it simply, rainbow-washing is when brands use Pride to market their business while failing to uplift this community in a way that will be beneficial to these marginalised groups.
To clarify, creating a rainbow version of your logo isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. You just need to back that action up with something concrete and meaningful.
It is this follow-up that is more important now than ever – consumer psychology has changed dramatically in recent years.
Why Has Consumer Psychology Changed?
Today, creating a great product or service is simply not enough to encourage people to buy.
Customers today pay much more attention to the ethical side of brands. People want to know they are aligning with the brands that adhere to their own norms and values. This is especially important for younger generations.
In a survey conducted by Small Business Trends, 83% of Millennials said they purchase from companies that align with their beliefs. And 62% of those Millennials surveyed also believe buying from companies that support their own political and social beliefs is important.
Customers are placing more importance on where brands stand on social, cultural, and environmental issues, and based on your stance, they will determine if you’re a trustworthy brand to buy from.
Purchasing decisions are now made based not only on what your product delivers but also on what you stand for.
What Are the Economic Benefits of Marketing to the LGBTQIA+ Community?
Ethics aside, going beyond rainbow-washing and marketing to this community is incredibly profitable.
The US Bureau revealed same-sex households, on average, make more money than opposite-sex couples with gay male couples earning a combined $107,210, annually, and opposite-sex couples making $96,932.
To put the LGBTQIA+ community's spending power into perspective, if this community were a country, it would have the fifth-largest economy in the world, with a GDP of $3.7 trillion!
People like to feel seen. And people are more likely to purchase from brands that reflect their identity. The LGBTQIA+ community is growing stronger according to a poll conducted by Gallup. In 2021, 5.6% of Americans identified as LGBTQIA+, up from 4.5% in 2017.
9.1% of Millennials identified as queer, with nearly half of that population identifying as bisexual. And among the Gen Z population, almost 16% identified as queer, 72% identified as bisexual and 1.8% identified as transgender.
The LGBTQIA+ community is growing and will continue to do so. To ignore or treat your marketing efforts towards this community as an afterthought could be detrimental.
How Can You Avoid “Rainbow-Washing”?
Right now, companies spend considerably less on advertising to the LGBTQIA+ community than other minority groups. People may feel marketing to this community is too risky, or just aren’t sure how to go about it.
So, before you slap a rainbow on your logo and call it a day, there are steps you can take towards creating successful marketing campaigns that positively uplift the LGBTQIA+ community and your brand.
1. Get Informed
Before you begin the creative part of the process, you need to take the time to understand the history of LGBTQIA+ rights and the difficulties this community is facing.
This is extremely important, as different countries or locales will face different issues. So, if you are a global company, you should adjust your campaign so that it reflects local issues.
For example, today there are at least 70 countries that have national laws against the LGBTQIA+ community, and in 2021, the U.S brought a record number of anti-trans bills into office.
And here in the UK, though the Government has launched a consultation on banning conversion therapy in England and Wales, it remains legal. In 2021, according to the Government's LGBT Survey, 7% of LGBTQIA+ people, 13% of trans people, and 10% of asexual people have been offered conversion therapy.
These statistics can be hard to hear, but you must acknowledge LGBTQIA+ rights and understand their struggles.
2. Make a Long-Lasting Commitment to Support the LGBTQIA+ Community
A survey conducted by Reboot in 2021 revealed that a third of companies that created a Pride marketing campaign did not donate any profits to LGBTQIA+ organisations.
“Showing” support for this community shouldn’t just take place one month of the year and should not be used for your own financial gain. Be a supportive ally all year round.
You can do this by donating to an LGBTQIA+ charity or highlighting local activists or organisations. If you’re not familiar with any local organisations, find someone in your team that does, or contact local groups.
Shining a spotlight on LGBTQIA+ organisations can be a cost-effective yet impactful marketing strategy, and charitable acts can help strengthen your overall brand trust, especially with the younger generations.
You should also look at your brand’s own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts to ensure that you’re treating your LGBTQIA+ employees with respect.
3. Reconsider Limited Edition Merchandise
If you are an eCommerce brand, before you mass-produce a rainbow-themed product for pride month, you need to consider if it will sell.
Customers are smart. Brands that create Pride-themed products that are nonsensical and don’t donate a portion of their profits to an LGBTQIA+ charity tend to end up with a huge surplus of merchandise. This type of merchandising comes across as distasteful and opportunistic.
What you could do is pick a popular product and highlight on the label or online description that a percentage of the profits will go towards an LGBTQIA+ charity. Don’t create a product that demonstrates temporary support, your support should be year-round.
4. Normalise Instead of Stereotype
Simply stating your brand supports LGBTQIA+ rights, without including people from this community in your Pride campaigns or other marketing is illogical. If you want your Pride marketing to be successful, true LGBTQIA+ voices and experiences need to be at the centre of the campaign.
So, you should find ways to include LGBTQIA+ people in your marketing, be it influencers, celebrities, or even your own employees if they are happy to do so.
While including the LGBTQIA+ community in an advertisement once a month is a nice thing to do, you should always go one step further and incorporate them into your campaigns throughout the year.
Normalisation is the goal here, not stereotyping.
Examples of Normalisation
Some brands have successfully demonstrated they are true advocates of LGBTQIA+ rights in their marketing campaigns.
Gillette recently released an advert, where a dad teaches his transgender son to shave, which is an excellent example of normalisation, as it incorporates this community into regular depictions of daily life.
Another great example comes from Ikea. In 1994, Ikea made history as its TV commercial was the first mainstream ad to feature a gay couple.
Ikea still features LGBTQIA+ people in its advertisements today and donates profits to LGBTQIA+ organisations like GLSEN — an American organisation fighting to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in K-12 schools.
Pride is an important month for millions of people across the world. The LGBTQIA+ community and economy continue to grow, and as a result, the Pride marketing landscape is evolving.
Before you add that rainbow logo, think of ways you can use your resources to highlight this community’s achievements and issues, as this will matter to your customers.
Pride is not just for one month. It’s time to show your support every month, of every year.
What is Adapt Doing?
Working with our partner company Welocalize, we are establishing a Life's Journey program, which will offer support services commonly not covered by insurance companies like gender affirmation surgery, adoption, and fertility treatments.
We are geared towards adding equity in the accessibility of someone's desired path no matter where they are starting.
We have also established an LGBTQIA+ identity and ally company group, which is a space for our teams to come together, create visibility and raise awareness for the LGBTQIA+ community.
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