Illustration of a man kneeling next to a washing machine with rainbow spilling out (Cover Image)
Brand MarketingJune 15, 2021

Why Rainbow-Washing Is Disingenuous & Bad for Your Brand

June 15, 2021
Cory Profile Picture
Cory Schröder
Senior Content Marketing Manager

Pride month is upon us, so first let’s start this out right by wishing the entire LGBTQIA+ community a joyous, safe, and reaffirming Pride.

But, for those of you who aren’t as familiar with Pride month, or the term “rainbow-washing”, let’s start with the basics.

Pride traditionally falls in the month of June and commemorates the Stonewall uprising, which occurred in 1969 in Greenwich Village. The goal of Pride is to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and their massive impact on the world — culturally, politically, and environmentally.

The term “rainbow-washing” popped up more recently and refers to the act of brands slapping a rainbow flag sticker on their products in hopes of increasing June sales without putting any real effort in.

What’s wrong with that situation? While it’s nice to see brands visibly supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, if it’s the only time in the entire year they’re somewhat vocal about queer issues or supportive of LGBTQIA+ rights, then we’re not impressed.

So, what can you do to make sure you’re not “rainbow-washing” your own brand this year?

Keep reading for some insight and tips.

What is “Rainbow-Washing”?

While we’ve already touched on the general definition of “rainbow-washing”, we’ve found that offering a tangible example does wonders.

Source: Techpost

So, let’s talk about AT&T.

Back in June 2018, they showed off a lovely rainbow version of their logo and donated $1 million to The Trevor Project, an organization that works to prevent suicide in LGBTQIA+ youth.

At first glance, this looks awesome. A huge, multi-million dollar company is vocally supporting LGBTQIA+ rights and donating a good chunk of change to a great organization.

However, upon deeper investigation, we’ve learned that between 2017-2018 alone, AT&T donated $2,755,000 to 193 different anti-gay politicians.

So while their colorful logo and hefty donation are nice, their commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community is quite obviously situational, temporary, and inauthentic. This, my friends, is what we call “rainbow-washing”.

As LGBTQIA+ writer Audrey Hickey so succinctly puts it: “Using the rainbow colors to cover up hypocrisy is shameful, pure and simple.”


Instead of just uploading a temporary rainbow logo this Pride, think about real, actionable ways your brand can support and uplift the LGBTQIA+ community.

Perhaps you want to release a limited edition version of your product? Donate the profits to a verified LGBTQIA+ charity.

Or maybe you are proud of your inclusive, diverse workplace and want to spotlight some of your LGBTQIA+ colleagues on social media? As long as you have their permission, go for it!

As AdWeek journalist Rigel Cable so eloquently points out, you have to show up for the fight, not just the party. Cable goes on to say that when there is major queer news, brands that claim to support LGBTQIA+ rights need to take a public stand.

But how? He continues, saying:

“Brands could publicly give a gift to the individuals when they are targeted by hate crimes, fund public gathering spaces for groups that organize and take political action, stand against unfair laws and political changes that hurt our community or donate to a civil rights museum outside of a month of observance."

Cable’s message is simple and to the point: don’t just show up when it’s convenient and profitable for you. Be there when it’s messy and difficult.

And if you’re now realizing you’ve been doing it wrong for years, it’s not too late to apologize and pledge to do better in the future.

How Can You Avoid “Rainbow-Washing” Your Brand?

While your brand may be an honest supporter of LGBTQIA+ rights, there’s still a chance you aren’t approaching the situation correctly — especially if you yourself aren’t a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

So, what steps can you take?

1. Make a real, long-lasting commitment to supporting LGBTQIA+ rights

Whether this is a financial commitment or one of time and resources, do your research first.

Most importantly, make sure that you’re making an authentic commitment — one that lasts more than a month.

When issues come up that affect the LGBTQIA+ community, make your position clear and, if possible, put your money where your mouth is by supporting organizations and charities that uplift the LGBTQIA+ community.

Furthermore, take a look at your brand’s own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts to ensure that you’re treating your LGBTQIA+ employees with the respect and care that they deserve.

Does your brand have a diversity policy when hiring? Have you set up diversity training for your employees? Every effort counts.

For example, at Latana, we’re dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive environment for everyone:

Source: Latana LinkedIn

2. Reconsider releasing limited-edition merchandise

Unless you are a huge brand that knows they’ll sell out all their Pride-themed merch (and then donate all or a portion of those proceeds to an appropriate charity), it’s a good idea to steer clear.

Best case scenario, you sell out most of your rainbow merchandise and are left with a few stragglers. Worst case scenario, you barely sell any of it and end up with a huge surplus and no donations.

Instead, think of ways that you can make your support of the LGBTQIA+ community apparent that don’t require a temporary (and often nonsensical) product line — as your support shouldn’t be temporary if you want to avoid rainbow-washing.

3. Collaborate with members of the LGBTQIA+ community

Source: Mr Mag

Be it your own employees or well-known LGBTQIA+ influencers and celebrities, including members of the queer community in your Pride celebration is a great way to increase visibility.

Just saying your brand supports LGBTQIA+ rights without including any LGBTQIA+ people in your Pride activities doesn’t make sense.

To celebrate Pride authentically, you need to center LGBTQIA+ voices and experiences. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t include your brand. A great example is the “Todd Snyder x Champion” campaign from H&M back in 2019.

Yes, Champion sold brand merchandise. But, they did so by collaborating with an LGBTQIA+ designer and hiring LGBTQIA+ models and influencers to showcase the products.

From actress Dominique Jackson to drag artist Milk, the collaboration celebrated the LGBTQIA+ community and centered trans visibility.

4. Include LGBTQIA+ people in the decision-making process

Before you release your limited-edition rainbow phone covers or beer koozies, make sure you’ve included an LGBTQIA+ person in the ideation, planning, and execution processes.

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.

And if you don’t have any openly LGBTQIA+ colleagues who are willing or able to assist, it’s your responsibility to hire an outside advisor.

Also — side note— if you truly don’t have any LGBTQIA+ colleagues, you should probably consider rethinking your hiring processes and company culture.


Who’s Getting It Right?

To close, let’s take a quick look at a couple of brands that are doing Pride right.

ASOS

Source: ASOS

For the past few years, ASOS has been joining forces with GLAAD, an organization that advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights. In celebration of Pride Month, they’ve created an inclusive fashion line that donates all proceeds to GLAAD.

By putting their money where their mouth is, ASOS is making a real commitment to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community.

Additionally, just last year they also took part in a social media campaign called #ProudTogether, which featured the voices of LGBTQIA+ icons — both past and present. By using their brand reach and visibility as a platform to spotlight LGBTQIA+ voices, ASOS allowed those that really mattered to take center stage.

2. Fluide

Source: USA Today

Founded in 2018 by Isabella Giancarlo and Laura Kraber, Fluide is a queer-owned, inclusive makeup company that aims to create high-quality products for queer folx.

Last year, they launched their own “Proud Together” Set and collaborated with LGBTQIA+ digital illustrator, Thaddeus Coates — aka Hippy Potter. The goal of their collection was “to create something that truly went beyond rainbow capitalism” and celebrated the LGBTQIA+ community authentically.

Additionally, 10% of the sales of the limited-edition Proud Together Set and t-shirt that Coates designed were donated to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute an organization that protects and elevates black trans people.

Most importantly, Fluide supports LGBTQIA+ rights year-round and has a truly inclusive and representative company culture — with its collections covering all gender expressions, skin tones, and identities.

3. Clue

Source: Clue Blog

Clue, a period tracking app, is another great example of a brand that is dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community year-round. They describe their product as one “designed for everyone who menstruates”.

Using gender-neutral language and colors in their design, Clue offers flexibility in tracking different symptoms — like opting out of tracking fertility or pregnancy — which helps some non-binary users better deal with gender dysphoria.

During Pride month, they’ve tweeted in support of #peoplewithperiods and are providing information on how to further customize the Clue app — from tracking the intake of hormones to logging partners to practice safer sex. Clue is more than just a period tracker, it’s an inclusive app for anyone who wants to use it.

Furthermore, Clue is always open to feedback from their LGBTQIA+ employees and users to understand how they can make the app more inclusive and supportive of everyone.

Final Thoughts

Pride is an incredibly important month for people all over the world. It’s a chance to celebrate LGBTQIA+ culture and the queer community openly and joyously.

So before you decide to throw together a last-minute Pride-themed landing page for your website, consider whether or not you’re using Pride for your own financial gain or reputation.

As Cable said, you have to show up for the fight, not just the party. And all things considered, this is a party you definitely don’t want to miss.

Brand Marketing

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