Every year as June rolls around, brands start to participate in “allyship” by throwing rainbows on, well, everything.
In the midst of the marketing chaos, many businesses forget about the month’s true history, making their allyship look a lot more like rainbow washing, a concept that has come to light and been called out by the LGBTQ+ community in recent years.
The month of June commemorates more than just pride itself. It acknowledges the Stonewall riots of 1969, a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history that sparked the modern-day LGBTQ+ rights movement.
During those riots, bar patrons and neighborhood residents protested for six days, going as far as bloody encounters with law enforcement. Pride Month is, therefore, a time of celebration, visibility, and activism for the community.
Slapping a rainbow on a few things for 30 days ignores that history.
In other words, brands must go beyond lip service and rainbow washing to demonstrate authentic representation and allyship. Genuine engagement not only fosters trust but also strengthens brand reputation and contributes to a more inclusive society.
What is rainbow washing?
Rainbow washing refers to the practice of brands using LGBTQ+ symbolism and imagery, such as the rainbow flag, during Pride Month or other LGBTQ+ events as a marketing tactic without genuinely supporting or advocating for the community.
In other words, being fake.
Sadly, this has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. Rainbow washing can take on many different forms:
- Brands using a rainbow version of their logos across social media
- Limited-edition Pride merch with no mention of profit sharing with organizations that benefit the community
- Using LGBTQ+ employees as tokens in marketing materials throughout June
- Participating in Pride Month but giving money to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians
- Hiring queer creators and underpaying them (or not paying them at all)
The negative impact of rainbow washing extends to both brands and the LGBTQ+ community. This approach commodifies the experiences and struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals, contributing to their marginalization.
As brands contribute to the noise without meaningful impact backing their campaigns, they are actively undermining the efforts of organizations that are actually committed to fostering inclusivity.
Companies that participate are seen as capitalizing on a marginalized community without supporting them, therefore making their campaigns performative activism at best.
Lastly, rainbow washing erodes a brand’s trust and credibility, as the community can see through insincere attempts to capitalize on their identities. This backlash can tarnish a brand’s reputation and harm its relationship with its target audience.
How can brands do better during Pride Month?
The rainbow washing of some brands does not mean all brands should be afraid of “getting canceled” or doing Pride Month “wrong”. It is still encouraged to show allyship in a meaningful, authentic way.
Here are some ways brands can do better during Pride Month:
Understand that Pride goes beyond the month of June.
Similar to Black History Month, AAPI Month, and so many more, it’s important to extend activism and allyship beyond a single month of observance. True support for the LGBTQ+ community requires year-round commitment rather than temporary displays of solidarity.
This could include:
- Creating inclusive policies
- Fostering diversity within the organization
- Ensuring LGBTQ+ representation at all levels of the company
- Developing inclusive marketing campaigns all year round
- Donating proceeds from LGBTQ+ exclusive lines throughout the year instead of only during Pride Month
Prioritize company-wide education.
Brands should prioritize educating themselves and their employees about LGBTQ+ issues and history. One of the roots of rainbow washing is the lack of historical knowledge and context (even though Google is free…). In many cases, brands being disingenuous are actually just using their limited knowledge to develop campaigns that ultimately are not impactful to the LGBTQ+ community.
By understanding the challenges faced by the community, brands can develop deeper empathy and awareness, allowing them to engage in meaningful conversations and take informed actions.
To get you started, here are some great resources for learning basic LGBTQ+ terminology:
- The Trevor Project’s glossary of key terms
- The Safe Zone Project’s glossary of LGBTQ+ vocabulary
- “Pronouns 101: Why They Matter and What To Do (and Not Do) If You Misgender Someone” from Medium
- “Why You Should Put Your Pronouns in Your Bio” by Schuyler Bailar
Build long-term partnerships with impactful organizations.
Collaborating with reputable LGBTQ+ organizations and individuals can provide valuable guidance and insights, while also demonstrating a genuine commitment to the community’s well-being.
This could include local organizations that support people in your community or broader organizations and individuals that can provide learning opportunities, campaign insights, and more.
Get buy-in from the LGBTQ+ community.
Listening to and involving the LGBTQ+ community in decision-making processes is essential. Without diverse voices at the table, your company will fail to see the gaps in your organization.
Brands should actively seek input and feedback from LGBTQ+ individuals, both within and outside their organization. Doing so will ensure that your brand’s actions align with the actual needs and desires of the LGBTQ+ population.
At the same time, seek out resources that specialize in this work. Do not place the burden of education about your LGBTQ+ inclusivity shortcomings on individuals within your organization. Instead, pay people who devote their professional time to corporate education and consultation.
Design inclusive marketing campaigns.
One of the main ways brands show their support is through Pride marketing campaigns, which is why it’s critical to craft inclusive marketing campaigns and content. Doing so is a vital component of authentic engagement.
Brands should portray diverse LGBTQ+ experiences in an authentic and respectful manner, avoiding stereotypes or tokenism. Meaningful representation can empower the community and resonate with a wider audience, fostering greater acceptance and understanding.
Put your money where your mouth is.
Donating to LGBTQ+ causes and providing tangible support is a way for brands to make a positive impact. While small businesses may not always be able to afford donations to multiple causes, it’s important to assess your company’s financials and do what you can.
Employee donation matching, proceeds from select products or services, or even designated days off for volunteering are all ways brands can put their money where their mouth is and contribute to the community.
Investing resources into these initiatives that directly benefit the community will demonstrate your commitment to being an ally beyond superficial gestures or rainbows. If you’re looking for LGBTQ+ organizations to support, here are some major ones to consider:
- The Trevor Project: The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
- The Human Rights Campaign Foundation: Works to increase understanding and encourage the adoption of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices.
- Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE): America’s oldest and largest non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ older adults, focusing on the issue of aging.
- Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN): American education organization working to end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and to prompt LGBT cultural inclusion and awareness in K-12 schools.
Financial contributions, sponsorships, and volunteering efforts all make a difference – no matter how small. Start by assessing what is feasible for your organization and what aligns with your brand values.
3 Great Examples of LGBTQ+ Allyship in Marketing
Absolut Vodka has a long history of supporting LGBTQ+ rights. In 1981, they were the first brand to advertise in LGBTQ+ magazines, such as The Interview and The Advocate, which was considered highly controversial at the time.
Over the years, they’ve collaborated with well-known artists, partnered with organizations like GLAAD, launched a variety of global marketing campaigns, and donated the proceeds of their Pride bottles to LGBTQ+ organizations.
Their most notable campaign includes the Kiss With Pride campaign in 2017. The marketing campaign included a series of images that highlighted the fact that, at the time, consensual same-sex activity remained illegal in 72 countries, and is punishable by death in eight.
The creative assets for the campaign were created in collaboration with Stonewall, which demonstrated Absolut’s genuine interest in creating an impactful message.
Ben & Jerry’s
A fan-favorite, Ben & Jerry’s is marketing goals. They are well-known for their strong commitment to social justice, including LGBTQ+ rights.
The brand actively advocates for LGBTQ+ equality and has supported campaigns such as marriage equality and transgender rights. Not only does Ben & Jerry’s use its platform to raise awareness, educate, and promote inclusivity but it also donates to LGBTQ+ organizations and regularly releases LGBTQ+-themed ice cream flavors.
In 2022, the global fashion retailer launched a video campaign called “My Chosen Family.” This powerful campaign highlighted the stories of three diverse chosen families where LGBTQ+ community members came together to provide support and unity.
By showcasing these unique narratives, H&M effectively amplified LGBTQ+ perspectives that have often been marginalized or silenced. The campaign’s success was due to its ability to make these experiences visible, fostering awareness and understanding of the multiplicity of LGBTQ+ lived experiences.
Create meaningful campaigns with Champ
All in all, your rainbow logo doesn’t make you an ally. However, it is not impossible for brands to move beyond performative actions and become true allies to the LGBTQ+ community.
Authenticity in digital marketing requires ongoing effort, empathy, and a willingness to learn and grow.
By building genuine relationships, crafting inclusive marketing campaigns, and supporting the LGBTQ+ community beyond Pride Month, brands can foster positive change and contribute to a more inclusive society.
To be a part of that change, partner with a digital marketing team that understands what’s at stake. Create meaningful campaigns with our professional marketing agency. To get started on a project, get in touch with our team today.