PRIDE MONTH AND THE ART OF RAINBOW-WASHING.
IT’S A THING.

As Pride month continues to roll by, there’s one thing that you’ll likely notice as you’re out walking, shopping, or just generally living your summer-life: brands love rainbows in the month of June. THEY LOVE THEM!

At least, they do now.

Corporate support for Pride wasn’t always the case, though. Fifty years ago during the Stonewall riots, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a major company that was stepping forward to put rainbows on their packaging in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. So when we see all these brands putting up their rainbow flags today, we have to ask ourselves: are these brands really profiting with purpose and championing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community? Or, are they using the purpose to make a profit?

Take, for example, the recent TTC renaming of Queen Station to “Qween” Station, or Wellesley Station’s pride-makeover to “Welleslay”. Don’t get us wrong, this is a great, fun way of celebrating Pride, and standing out as an ally does have its own special powers. Watching the conversation pitting the TTC and Metrolinx against each other in the comments section to see who could be more Pride-full was wonderful and made us all laugh. But one has to ask: what do these organizations do for the LGBTQ+ community beyond a punny joke or rainbow-wrapped product once a year? Is putting up rainbows for Pride month enough?

Another Pride-themed ad that popped up this month was from Cottonelle. The ad features eggplant emojis and kitty-cats with heart eyes paired with a reminder to clean your ‘down-theres’ during Pride to keep the love going. We can’t help but wonder: does this ad actually do anything for Pride and the LGBTQ+ community? Yes, Cottonelle has opted to feature LGBTQ+ people in many previous ad campaigns, despite external criticism, but this ad seems to be perpetuating promiscuity stereotypes in the LGBTQ+ community in an effort to cheekily (pun intended) profit off of people’s newfound love of Pride. When you wade into the comments section here, the community seems to have felt this missed the mark — and that lack of authenticity can be a major turn-off for consumers.

When companies leverage cultural movements such as Pride month and take stands on important social issues, it’s vital that they infuse that issue into their brand and business DNA in order to be taken seriously. Rainbow-washing your product line for a month can come off as disingenuous if you’re not backing it up in some real-world way. Instead, try creating Diversity and Inclusion training that pairs with the ads to help make all your employees better allies, too. Or, partner up with organizations aiming to help LGBTQ+ persons at risk of experiencing homelessness, to help make a difference in the community. You can have your rainbow cake and eat it, too.

Rather than use a purpose to make a profit, try actually profiting with purpose.
Your customers will thank you, and your profits will, too.

— Paul Rivait is Senior Manager, Social Media and Analytics at Public Inc.

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