Keep Colors Bright All Year Long: How to Avoid Rainbow Washing Your Pride Marketing

By Josch Chodakowsky

Marketing to any demographic includes looking at sets of trends and profile basics to craft a message that will reach them most effectively (the explosion of articles discussing "marketing to millennials" is an easy way to see this in action). The issue with reducing groups of a similar generation, race, or preferences to a target on a marketing calendar, however, is that it forgets the individual, and betrays strong consumer preferences for personalization.

This has become especially true for LGBTQ+ communities, where marketers have grown comfortable during June's Pride Month in posting a rainbow on social media, creating a promotion, and calling it a day. While this is, of course, important, it also reduces the community and event to a symbology; it forgets that in the U.S., 5.6 percent of the U.S. population identifies as LGBTQ+; this community is made up of distinct individuals who don't want to just see performative allyship but messages that speak to them on an individual level with honesty, authenticity, and care.

Check out the resources below.

Be An Authentic Ally To Earn The Right To Wear The Rainbow. Forrester, June 2021.
A slight scratch on firms' freshly rainbow-painted logos too often reveals that they lack the policies to support LGBTQ+ employees and/or miss the mark in designing products and services with LGBTQ+ people in mind — and the community is scratching at that paint. Every year, there are dozens of articles and posts identifying companies with queer-friendly branding and anti-LGBTQ+ actions.

Considering that 78 percent of queer people want to support companies that support them and that Forrester research shows that gen Z is looking for companies to commit to transgender rights, a lack of authenticity isn't just inviting damage to a brand — it's a wasted opportunity. Before you talk the talk, show that your company can walk the walk by committing to the LGBTQ+ people on your payroll and in your CRM.

5 Ways Your Brand Can Be a True Ally this Pride Month. Business 2 Community, June 2021.
While Pride Month should be about community, recognition, and honoring the millions of people who left us all too soon, it's unfortunately become a money-making machine for many organizations that tend to drop off the face of the earth when July 1 rolls around. Business 2 Community provides five considerations to help your brand avoid the performative pandering and be a true ally to the LGBTQ+ community — all Pride Month and beyond.

5 Groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Campaigns. ANA, June 2021.
Effective storytelling in ads isn't just about the scenario presented, but how it's presented. Tokenization and stereotyping are two ways marketers often create ineffective ads. No one wants to be the "token" LGBTQ+ person at a company meeting or family function — and no one wants to see ads stereotyping the community (which itself is diverse). This looks at some campaigns that have captured authentic moments to connect with LGBTQ+ consumers and their families and friends and may inspire success.

Companies Need to Swap Tokenism for Authenticity if They Want to Celebrate Pride. LGBTQ Nation, May 2021.
Pride month is certainly a time for celebrating the diverse accomplishments, identities, and members within the LGBTQ+ community, but companies hoping to make a buck from slapping a rainbow on their products and calling it a day should think carefully about engaging in pink capitalism this year. While the business community has made strides in observing Pride with more substantial commitments to queer people, 2020 emphasized the need for companies to go even further.

With a renewed focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion across all industries, tokenistic marketing won't fly anymore. 2021 Pride campaigns must acknowledge the lived experience of queer people over the past year if they hope to find any success and avoid backlash. This presents a few key elements that every company should include in their Pride outreach.

A Guide To Defying Rainbow Washing. MediaPost, May 2021.
Thirty years ago, activist group Queer Nation popularized the slogan, "We're Here! We're Queer! Get Used To It!" Just weeks until Pride month, it's clear that the contemporary call-to-action is: "We're Here! We're Queer! And We're Queer All Year." We're already seeing memes like "Pride 365" and "Pride Is Every Day," but are brands ready to enact evergreen LGTBQ+ strategies and meaningfully connect with a community wielding an estimated global spending power of $3.7 trillion? Media Post offers some tips to avoid rainbow washing:

  • Get your house in order: Community is not a monoculture. The intersectionality of culture and semiotics provide extraordinary scope for creative exploration and meaningful connection.
  • Use a predominantly LGTBTQ+ team to develop queer campaigns, and pay queer professionals/creators appropriately.
  • Do your homework: Commission workshops by LGBTQ+ professionals to educate all levels of your marketing team to make LGBTQ+ education an ongoing commitment.
  • Scale your involvement: Partner with LGBTQ+ nonprofits, advocacy groups, and projects to fuel a year-round narrative with groups such as GLAAD, GLSEN, The Trevor Project, It Gets Better, Our Family Coalition, The Transgender Law Center, and PFLAG.
  • Sponsor a queer space: Queer spaces are closing at an alarming rate. Save Our Spaces has a GoFundMe to contribute to those bars, and Conde Nast imprint Them runs a series remembering lost, iconic queer spaces. Jägermeister launched an initiative to save 15 lesbian bars.
  • Take the less-traveled road: Don't just launch LGBTQ+ campaigns in progressive cities. Activate in markets where the work will make people uncomfortable.

P&G, GLAAD Partner on Initiative to Help Hesitant Advertisers Refine LGBTQ Messaging. Marketing Dive, May 2021.
Procter & Gamble partnered with LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD on an initiative that seeks to help advertisers and agencies develop more authentic and inclusive messaging strategies. The Visibility Project will serve as a resource for industry best practices and thought leadership around LGBTQ representation. It is P&G's most significant program to accelerate LGBTQ advertising leadership: phase one looks to bring more Fortune 100 advertisers on as partners; they will then work with the GLAAD Media Institute on improving inclusion practices internally and in their consumer-facing marketing.




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Josch Chodakowsky is a senior manager of research and innovation at ANA.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Futures Pulse are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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