Pride 2022: Are You Rainbow Washing? 

Every June, company logos are awash with rainbow colours to support the LGBTQIA+ community for pride month. However, it’s rather difficult to know if a business is being part of the conversation as tokenism or if they genuinely support the cause.  Are they just talking the talk or are they willing to walk the walk as well?  

Even though marketing involves segmenting a target audience, it should still be inclusive. In this article, I’m going to discuss some ways in which marketing can genuinely promote inclusivity.  

What is Pride Month?

The aim of this month is to strengthen the voice of the LGBTQIA+ community and is an opportunity for organisations to show support for these individuals’ rights. For the whole month, pride parades, protests, drag shows, memorials, and celebration takes place around the world as an ode to everything the LGBTQIA+ community has achieved over the years. 

Why June?

“Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth, as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility or saying, ‘This is who I am!’”  

As you might know, the pride flag was created by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. According to him, these colours are the most powerful symbol of pride. Originally, the flag had pink to represent sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. Later on, the pink, turquoise and indigo colours had to be removed due to issues with dye production. Today, the pride flag is a six-striped flag including the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The rainbow flag did not become widely recognised as a symbol of LGBTQIA+ pride until 1994.  

Rainbow Washing

The Urban Dictionary defines rainbow washing (aka. pride washing) as “The act of using or adding rainbow colours and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks…in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQIA+ equality (and earn consumer credibility)—but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.” 

It’s hard to understand the underlying intent of corporate pride but the biggest sign of rainbow washing is when companies support the LGBTQIA+ community only during pride. It is an empty gesture if they are not inclusive for the rest of the year.  

Due to the increase in rainbow washing, pride has turned into a commodity where people associate it with discounts and consider it a shopping opportunity, instead of an opportunity to raise awareness about the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Companies should support queer voices throughout the year, and not just for a month. Remember – people will understand the intent behind your efforts if you have a good heart and genuinely believe in the cause.  

I understand that all businesses, especially small ones, cannot afford to spend a lot of money on campaigns, but there are other ways to show support. You can take small steps like amplifying queer voices through your social media channels, creating a safe space for your employees, training your staff on diversity and inclusion, and participating in LGBTQIA+ events. However, you don’t always have to publicise your support. Your first priority should not be overlaying company logos with rainbows, but practising inclusivity in your day-to-day operations. Below are some brands that have shown support to the LGBTQIA+ community in ways that appear genuine.  

1. Lego – “Everyone is Awesome”

For pride month, Lego made use of their famous movie line from 2014 – “Everything is awesome”. This buildable model is based on the rainbow flag as a sign of inclusion. It includes 11 monochromatic minifigures, each with its own traits, and they are in the colour scheme of a rainbow. In an interview with Urdesign Design, the creator of this Lego set and vice president of Lego Group, Matthew Ashton, says, “I wanted to create a model that symbolises inclusivity and celebrates everyone, no matter how they identify or who they love. Everyone is unique, and with a little more love, acceptance and understanding in the world, we can all feel more free to be our true AWESOME selves! This model shows that we care, and that we truly believe ‘Everyone is awesome’!”  This campaign is not plain rainbow washing as the company is providing $1 million to LGBTQIA+ organisations around the world. Workplace Pride, Open for Business, and Stonewall are just a few of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy with which LEGO has partnered.  

2. Indeed – Empathy at Work

Indeed’s latest campaign on inclusivity in the workplace left a deep impact on their audience. The video follows a nervous interviewee who is getting ready for a job interview. Their anxiety is reduced when the interviewer politely asks for their pronouns; it may seem like a small step but is a very significant one. They end the video with the message, We can’t show what we do, until we can show up how we are.A person’s output at work is very much dependent upon how comfortable they are in the working environment. Indeed’s message of an inclusive workplace is an important one that all companies should work towards. This heartfelt ad was both emotional as well as educational, and the most meaningful part of the video is that the actor playing the role, River Gallo, themselves go with the pronouns they/them. Take a look at the Corporate Equality Index for further information if you want to double-check your company’s inclusion policy.

3. Skittles – Pride Pack

Now you might ask – how does an already colourful brand show its support during pride? Well, Skittles’ approach to pride is rather colourless. They brought back their all-grey “Pride Packs” with limited edition colourless packaging and grey candies for the second June in a row. As we all know, Skittles’ branding is always colourful, so making an impact required them to take the colourless route. Although they got rid of the colours, they promise that you will be able to taste the rainbow in each Skittle.   

The company teamed up with GLAAD to donate $1 for every pack sold (up to $100,000),  

Which makes the campaign all the more impactful. John McCourt, GLAAD senior director, stated that “Visibility from beloved brands like Skittles has a powerful and unique opportunity to reach parents and young Americans with calls to stand with LGBTQIA+ people during pride month and beyond.” 

Does it Cost to be Inclusive?

No – there are no added charges for being inclusive. Even the smallest steps count when you do it with good intentions and the belief in everyone’s right to love and be loved. The key here is to not only support the LGBTQIA+ community for one month each year, but to make it part of the day to day.  

I hope that we as a society move beyond using rainbow washing clickbait. There is perhaps no way to know whether a brand is being inclusive for the sake of profit or if they actually believe in the message. We as marketers cannot always speak for our whole organisation, but we can focus on aligning our own efforts with the message we truly believe in. No matter how small or insignificant your support might seem, your intentions matter. 

I hope the day will come when people can express themselves and lead their lives without being afraid of the consequences, and my team and I wish everyone a very happy pride month! 

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