• Marketing

Rainbow-washing: What it is and how to avoid it

by Blair Pettit (Strategist), Sarah Clevenger (Strategist), and Sabrina Spodek (Social Media Coordinator), Khoros Strategic Services | Jun 25, 2021

Pride Month 2021 is now drawing to a close, and although many official celebrations will end, the work of the LGBTQ+ community is far from done. It’s more important than ever for community members and allies to continue showing their support year-round.

What is rainbow-washing?

One of the most prevalent and performative trends to emerge in recent years is “rainbow-washing,” or “rainbow capitalism” — that is, strategic marketing campaigns designed by large brands to sell Pride-themed merchandise and thus capitalize on Pride month. Almost all rainbow-washing takes advantage of the rainbow flag, an incredibly important and historical symbol of celebration for the community.

You’ve likely encountered at least one form of this already. In fact, between May 1st and June 21st, 2021, there have already been 12.1K mentions of rainbow-washing on Twitter as users seek to spread awareness and caution others about falling prey to the issue (Source: Khoros Intelligence). 

12.1k mentions of rainbow-washing

How your brand can avoid rainbow-washing

Still a little unsure what rainbow-washing looks like in action? Think: brands updating their profile pictures with rainbow-colored logos, brands profiting by selling rainbow-themed apparel, or brands suddenly highlighting LGBTQ+ influencers/creators in their marketing campaigns for one month out of the year. While these tactics are common, there are critical steps you can take as a brand to ensure your brand’s Pride Month celebrations, reflections, and activations are both meaningful and authentic:

Show year-round support, not just during Pride.

It’s about being a consistent ally, not just an ally when it’s convenient or trendy. This isn’t just another moment on the content calendar, so be sure your year-round plans — both for content and in general — reflect your support of LGBTQ+ employees, customers, and everyone else.

Before thinking through your external marketing strategies, take a look in the mirror.

Is your company actively supporting and creating an inclusive, safe place for LGBTQ+ employees? (Hopefully yes.) Is your company donating large sums to anti-LGBTQ+ political campaigns? (Hopefully no.) We recommend focusing on your internal processes before pushing those external messages to avoid concerns about authenticity.

Highlight LGBTQ+ voices.

Give available platforms and opportunities to those that identify as LGBTQ+ to speak out about issues affecting their community. Partner with LGBTQ+ creators and influencers both during Pride and year-round. Highlight your LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Groups. Provide your LGBTQ+ employees the opportunity to share their experiences.

Take meaningful action through nonprofit donations and partnerships.

Identify nonprofit partnerships and places to donate to take your support a step further. After all, actions speak louder than words. Here are a few organizations we love and/or support here at Khoros:


Brands that do it right

To spark some inspiration, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Pride activations we’ve seen so far this year, most of which pair their celebratory content with real, tangible impact:

Skittles

For the second year in a row, Skittles is giving up its signature rainbow during the month of June, and offering a new limited-edition bag with gray packaging and candy. By removing the rainbow from their packaging to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, they’re highlighting that during Pride Month, only one rainbow matters. The community was quick to respond by asking where they can buy the limited edition bag with several members thanking Skittles for their efforts to donate $1.00 per pack purchased (up to $100,000) to GLAAD.

Levi's

Levi’s has continued to show up for the LGBTQ+ community by releasing their annual Pride collection that emphasizes visibility. Levi’s continues the tradition of 100% of net proceeds from the Pride collection sales going back to the community. Since 2020, they’ve gone to OutRight Action International, an organization working to advance human rights for those who identify as LGBTQ+ all over the world.

Peloton

This lifestyle and fitness brand is celebrating Pride Month by showcasing LGBTQ+ instructors, members, and employees throughout the month of June. Additionally, they honor individuality and diversity through music, themed classes and more throughout the year.

UGG

Ugg has created its fifth annual “Pride Prom” event, which hosts local LGBTQ+ and allied youth from coastal communities of California. This year’s campaign featured Lil Nas X, Hari Nef, Maya Samaha, and several other notable individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. Further supporting the LGBTQ+ community, for each pair of Disco Stripe Slides sold, the brand will donate $25 of the marked retail price to GLAAD, with a maximum guaranteed donation of $125,000.

Alo Yoga

Throughout June, Alo Yoga has been posting on Instagram to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. They continue to showcase their Pride Capsule campaign featuring members of the Alo Yoga family, but instead of stopping there, they donate 100% of proceeds from those items to The Trevor Project.



These are just a few of many brands doing a great job celebrating the LGBTQ+ community during Pride so far this year. We hope you find these examples helpful as you plan out your own content, both this month and throughout each year to come.

Here at Khoros, we’re fundraising for the onePULSE Foundation and our Pride Employee Resource Group is leading ongoing, educational discussions with the broader employee base around key topics, such as pronoun-usage and the different stages of allyship. We’ve also identified several LGBTQ+ focused nonprofits to receive free access to our software and services through our Khoros Social Responsibility (KSR) Program.

With these strategies, your brand can foster a safe and intersectional space for the community to celebrate Pride Month, as well as garner positive sentiment to your social campaigns. If you’re interested in learning more about social media strategy or anything that Khoros Strategic Services does, talk to an expert on our team today.



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