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Marketing Strategy  |   Diversity & Inclusion

Marketing with pride vs. "Rainbow Washing:" Marketing lessons from Pride Month 2019

Stephanie Baiocchi

By Stephanie Baiocchi

Jun 28, 2019

Marketing with pride vs. "Rainbow Washing:" Marketing lessons from Pride Month 2019

50 years ago today, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood, and the Stonewall Riots began. 

The momentum from the riots launched a massive civil rights movement and a year later, on June 28, 1970, thousands returned to march at the former site of The Stonewall Inn. They marched to drive the advancement of LGBT rights and protest the laws that led to the police raids and subsequent riots one year prior.

Over time, this march transformed into the Pride parades and celebrations we have today.

As June comes to a close, I wanted to reflect on the amazing time I’ve had (and will have -- the Chicago Pride parade is this Sunday, June 30) at Pride events this year.

stephanie and friends at pride 2019My friends and me before Chicago Pride Fest 2019

However, the end of Pride month also has me contemplating all of the Pride-related marketing campaigns I’ve come across. 

Everywhere you look there seems to be a rainbow-clad advertisement. 

From bus stops to billboards, online ads to company logos on social profiles, there is no shortage of color in corporate branding this month.

rainbow logos

Image via BuzzFeed

While I have loved seeing colorful rainbows just about everywhere I turned recently, I am conflicted, knowing many organizations aren’t doing much beyond simply flying the rainbow flag. 

Commercialization Is Not Support

This “support” is often just superficial; in an effort to be relevant. 

The thing is, while Pride month is definitely a celebration, it’s not all rainbows and sparkles. 

The LGBTQ+ community still faces exclusion and experiences discrimination at work, school, and generally in society. 

The month of June is as much about celebrating how far we’ve come as it is about continuing the fight for acceptance and equality. 

Slapping a rainbow over a logo and calling it a day is simply not doing enough -- and people notice. 

In fact, commercializing this important month without backing it with real support and action can turn away customers. They’ll spot your superficial show of support from a mile away. 

“We’re at a place where consumers and activists are going to hold brands accountable for walking the walk if they talk the talk,” said Jay Porter, president of Edelman, Chicago, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

What Is Rainbow Washing?

According to Justice Namaste, Social Media Coordinator at WIRED, Rainbow-washing allows people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and call it allyship.”

This lack of tangible support is unfortunately present in many organizations. 

In fact, two in five companies with Pride campaigns are donating no proceeds to LGBTQ+ causes in 2019, according to research by Reboot Online

The study even showed one in 10 LGBTQ+ people actively avoid purchasing Pride products because they believe they are being exploited.

Conversely, some brands are giving back 100% of their profits from Pride-themed sales to organizations like The Trevor Project and HRC. Among these are American Eagle, ASOS, Ralph Lauren.  

According to an article published by Yahoo Finance, while 84% of the LGBTQ+ community feels “positively” about branded Pride campaigns, nearly all (95%) people surveyed said companies need to do more to help LGBTQ+ causes throughout the year, as opposed to just during Pride month.

How Brands Can “Walk the Walk” During Pride Month

What’s the difference between companies who are marketing with pride and those who are simply rainbow washing? 

I recently asked this question to members of our Facebook community, IMPACT Elite. Anna Empey, Business Owner and Consultant at Business Inspired Solutions, shared her thoughts: 

"As a gay person, I love when companies take time to review their policies and practices during this month. Looking at how they can continue to support the LGBTQ community by seeing if there are things in place that need to be adjusted to make sure those employees and customers are truly supported. I do my best to look into the policies and practices in place that help these communities before I do business with any business."

Before going all in on the rainbows, companies need to take active steps to create inclusive work environments and give back to the LGBTQ+ community. Customers and prospects will be paying attention to this.

Fortunately, the HRC has some tips and best practices for marketing and advertising during pride month and beyond. They include doing good market research, being sensitive to stereotypes, being consistent and confident, and more. 

In addition to the HRC’s great tips, here are a few I think all brands should consider.

Be a Vocal Ally 

Make it a point to engage in conversations about supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t put on a Pride t-shirt if you’re not ready to have a conversation about what it means to wear one. Stand up for the queer employees at your organization if they’re not around to stand up for themselves. 

Have Policies That Create an Inclusive and Safe Working Environment 

While being supportive is great, access to affordable healthcare is even better. 

Oftentimes, policies regarding health coverage and parental leave, are not completely inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community’s needs. Look beyond your day-to-day office life and get to know the deeper challenges those in the community face and how you can accommodate.

Donate to LGBTQ+ Charities and Organizations

While support and allyship are great, what many marginalized communities truly need is financial support. 

If you want to do something for Pride month, put your money where your mouth is and donate to LGBTQ+ organizations to support LGBTQ+ youth (The Trevor Project), support the political fight for equality (Human Rights Campaign), or support local LGBTQ+ owned businesses. 

This is especially important if you’re selling products or promoting discounts for Pride month specifically. Don’t use the queer community for your own gain. Take the opportunity to give back and support instead.

Note: You don’t even have to sell a product to contribute a donation. You could host an internal fundraiser where your company matches what employees donate. You could also host an event inviting your clients or community.

Kristin [last name removed for privacy], from our Facebook group, shared what her company does: 

“We celebrate all month with events, guest speakers, and informative communications across the agency. Yesterday, we hosted drag queen bingo for our employees, with all proceeds from bingo cards going to local LGBTQ resource and community centers.” 

Be Inclusive and Representative in Your Promotional Campaigns 

From shaving ads including transgender men to marketing campaigns that feature same-sex couples, there are many steps brands can take to be more inclusive and representative in their promotional campaigns. Check out this great resource for inclusive stock photography we’re loving lately.

Be Consistent and Confident

One of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) tips that’s the most challenging for organizations is being consistent and being confident.

In their guide, they note how “modifying or withdrawing ads after negative criticism from conservative groups suggests waffling and alienates LGBTQ consumers.” 

Brands that take a stance during Pride month should expect some backlash and negativity from a portion of their audience. Be prepared for this and discuss plans for if/how your team will respond ahead of time. 

Great Examples of Brands Marketing with Pride

One example of a brand really nailing their Pride month marketing is shaving brand Harry’s. They included a transgender man in a commercial with the voiced-over line "You can shave to feel like you." Plus, 100% of the profits from their Shave with Pride razor are donated to The Trevor Project.

shave with pride

Stacy Wood, Marketing Manager at Pet Food Experts shared: “We wrote a blog with ideas to celebrate with a downloadable sign for our customers to hang in their pet stores.”

In the article, Pet Food Experts suggests some great, actionable ways companies can support the LGBTQ+ community, including: 

  • Establish your store as a business that welcomes LGBTQ+ community members by advertising through signage in your store.
  • Put yourself on the map as an LGBTQ+ friendly business by using the Gayborhood website.
  • Donate to an LGBTQ+ charity.

Our friends at HubSpot made a whole page on their site dedicated to how they’re “Growing with Pride.” 

Team members marched in the parade, participated in Pride month events, and even created a video sharing what growing with pride means to them.

growing with pride

Christina Bockisch, HubSpot employee and another member of our Elite community, shared a bit more about HubSpot’s Pride month plans: 

“I don’t think this will come as much of a surprise, but HubSpot really goes all out to celebrate Pride Month - from the GAYtrium event we had today to over 200 HubSpotters and their friends and family walking in Boston Pride to various programming (like panels, educational events, networking events, etc.) 

They’ve created a culture that’s truly remarkable. You can really feel the love and support for the LGBTQ+ community this month. I mean, you feel it all year long, but it’s been even stronger these last few days — and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I really love working for a company that celebrates Pride Month but also truly celebrates diversity, inclusion and belonging all year long.”

These are just two examples that stood out to me from our community. There are many brands out there, both B2B and B2C, who are doing a great job of marketing with pride.

Pride Month: A Lesson for All Marketers

You’ll notice there’s no rainbow across IMPACT’s logo...yet.  

I feel completely comfortable and totally accepted by my teammates at IMPACT. I even kicked off Pride month by doing a lunch-and-learn to teach the team some things about gender and sexuality, the history of Pride month, and commonly misunderstood terms. 

However, while we’re making big strides in diversity and inclusion, we still have a way to go before I’d support making our logo colorful for the month.

While it’s exciting to see so many companies embracing inclusivity and pride, it’s important to remember that the rainbow logo itself is not enough. Companies need to actually support their LGBTQ+ employees, create an inclusive environment, and give back to the community. 

It’s good for marketers to remember that these principles extend beyond supporting the LGBTQ+ community and beyond just the month of June.

 When working to improve diversity and inclusion at your organization, you’ll still want to apply many of the HRC’s tips, strive to be authentic in your marketing materials, and take real action to support marginalized communities.

Let us know what your organization is doing or share your favorite example with us in IMPACT Elite!

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