June is Pride Month, a month celebrating the LGBTQI+ community. The good vibes are real, but there’s also a more cynical side to the celebration that’s cropped up in recent years.
It’s now become a common joke that suddenly every corporation and organization becomes pro-LGBTQI+ in June, even if they usually don’t reach out to or represent the community at all.
Consumers aren’t easily duped: While some brands and organizations are clearly allied with the community, others are just as clearly pandering to what has become a powerful market -- in 2019, Forbes reported LGBTQI+ consumers’ buying power at a staggering $3.7 trillion.
That makes it understandable that companies and organizations of all sorts would want to show their support. And in a way, whether it’s totally sincere or just jumping on a (lucrative) bandwagon, this could be seen as a positive thing. As one commenter said in an article mocking a Pride-themed tweet from the US Marines that rather misguidedly featured rainbow-colored bullets, “It’s certainly better for brands to want to be associated with the LGBTQI+ community than not.”
Many members of the community agree. But just as many others, especially of younger generations, might appreciate this but are still not convinced by the sudden recognition they get from brands every June.
As journalist Daya Czepanski points out, this false support - often called “rainbow washing” or “pink washing” -- can actually be detrimental to the LGBTQI+ community.
For one thing, they write, “In some people’s minds, Pride has become more about brand deals, sponsorships and celebrity appearances than amplifying queer voices and raising awareness for LGBTQI+ issues.”
Another way rainbow washing is detrimental is that it can allow a brand to easily make money with Pride-themed products and events, but not give a single cent back to the LGBTQI+ community in any way.
This leads to another issue; for Czepanski, this kind of temporary and surface-level support for the LGBTQI+ community makes “performative allyship” - calling yourself an ally without actually doing anything to help or support the community - seem okay.
Even if a brand or organization’s show of support is sincere, there’s something else to consider. As we’ve talked about before, more than ever consumers today are seeking authenticity in ad and awareness campaigns. They will be aware if a brand has never seemed to advocate for the LGBTQI+ community before, or if they seem to be going over the top with it.
Some consumers will even be vigilant enough to check out what a company does with its earnings. Sometimes they’ll find out that an organization that’s promoting Pride Month also donates to or has otherwise supported anti-LGBTQI+ organizations and legislation - and they won’t hesitate to make this information public.
For instance, in an article on the history of rainbow washing, journalist Dylan Miettinen takes time to share a list of 25 corporations that have donated significant sums of money to politicians who’s supported anti-gay legislation.
Some brands have never done anything that could be construed as being against the LGBTQI+ community in any way - but they may not have done anything to support the community, either. This can look nearly as bad, giving the impression, to paraphrase Rigel Cable, that they’ve shown up for the party, but not the fight.
So, how can brands celebrate Pride Month with class and sincerity? Here are a few suggestions:
● Donate to LGBTQI+ causes. This could be donations made with profits tied to Pride Month advertising, or, even better, all year ‘round. Consider large, well-established charities, as well as ones based in local communities.
● Show ongoing, continuous support for the LGBTQI+ community. Some ways to do this are speaking out publicly about issues impacting the LGBTQI+ community, featuring LGBTQI+ people in your marketing campaigns (and not just during Pride Month), and reaching out to victims of hate crimes to show support and possibly financial aid.
● Check your company culture. Does your company support equality within its walls, not just in advertising campaigns? What about your overseas branches? To truly show support for the LGBTQI+ community, companies need to be inclusive even in countries where LBGTQI+ people are regularly discriminated against.
● Read the room. Earlier in this article, I mentioned a Pride tweet from the US Marines that featured rainbow-colored bullets. This imagery baffled many. After all, in recent weeks the US has seen a wave of high-profile shootings, so bullets aren’t something the public is associating with positive thoughts at the moment. For another, the LGBTQI+ community was the specific target of one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting, and members of the community are often victims of violence.
As with just about anything an organization posts on social media, Pride messaging should be carefully considered and discussed by a group of people, ideally including LGBTQI+ people.
Schröder aptly advises:
Don’t wait until you’ve put together an entire concept before getting input and ideas from an LGBTQIA+ colleague or advisor — include them from the very beginning.
Not only will you avoid making mistakes early on, but you’ll also be able to create a more authentic, meaningful campaign.
● Know your target audience. This is common sense for any ad or awareness campaign, and it definitely applies to the LGBTQI+ community, as well. Learning a little about the history and current state of LGBTQI+ rights in your market is an excellent start. And so is getting familiar with powerful voices in the community. Social media specialist Megan O'Keefe suggests looking at LGBTQI+ people in the media and online and paying attention to what they’re saying.
Pride Month can be about so much more than just jumping on the brand bandwagon, and should be about much more than just rainbow washing. See it as an opportunity to reach out to consumers with true intent of sincerity and support. This will not only help your organization, but also help change the world.