I recently had a message exchange on LinkedIn that went a little something like this:
Them: “We are running a 30% promotion for Pride Month starting today until June 30 for anyone who wants to get featured on more websites.”
Me: “If the offer is for Pride Month is some of the money being donated to an LGBTQ+ charity or organisation?”
Them: “No, it isn’t. We are offering a 30% promotion as we celebrate Pride Month.”
And it’s exchanges like this that have become a common problem in June each year – the month dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and, more importantly, the inequalities that many around the world are still facing.
In fact, it’s become such an issue that it now even has its own term – Rainbow Washing. In a nutshell, it references businesses that use Pride Month purely as a marketing gimmick. Those organisations that do nothing more than simply place a rainbow filter over their logo for 30 days or, in the case of the person who messaged me on LinkedIn, label something as a Pride Month offer or product.
On the face of it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with raising awareness of Pride Month and what it stands for. However, looking at it through a purely marketing lens, I become slightly more cynical.
Publicly backing Pride Month demonstrates compassion and a commitment to diversity. On a base level it makes your business look good and opens up a potential new audience for you, with the ultimate end game being a possible increase in revenue. And this is where the problem is; those companies using Pride Month, or multiple other causes, as a marketing ploy without doing anything tangible for the communities and causes these awareness events are designed to support.
Let’s look at a few facts:
• LGBTQ+ hate crime is on the rise, nearly tripling over the last five years.
• Gay and bi-sexual men are four-times more likely to attempt suicide.
• 67% of trans people have experienced depression in the last year and 46% have thought about taking their own life.
• There are still 69 countries where homosexuality is a crime.
It is stats like these that are the true meaning behind Pride Month and those companies that take part in Rainbow Washing are dramatically misreading the situation.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many examples of companies doing great things for the LGBTQ+ community. Take Skittles for example, which is once again selling grey sweets in matching grey packaging to ensure the only rainbows receiving attention are those associated with the LGBTQ+ community. Despite being a bloody amazing marketing campaign, for every pack sold, a donation is made to GLAAD up to a total value of £70,000. There’s also H&M, which is using an app to encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community to share their stories and matching donations to The Trevor Project.
This all boils down to one thing – authenticity. It is no longer about clever marketing, it’s about real marketing. Our daily fixes of social media mean we are all much more savvy to how advertising works and the tricks of the trade. Consumers value truth and honesty and are drawn to brand integrity. It isn’t just about what’s shiny, new or cool – it’s about what is meaningful.
So the advice I give all my clients – we shouldn’t be looking at awareness events like Pride Month as box ticking or a PR exercise. If we are publicly talking about it, supporting it and using it as part of our marketing, then we need to be looking at how we are actually engaging with the cause and how we are making a difference. And if the answer is ‘we aren’t’, then we simply shouldn’t be doing it.
Events like Pride Month are as much about education as they are about general awareness, which actually brings me full circle back to that LinkedIn conversation. Anyone who knows me well, will know I certainly couldn’t just leave it there.
Me: “Thanks for clarifying. This article is an interesting read [I sent over a link to an article on Rainbow Washing] and is why I always advise my clients to be authentic in the marketing and not use an event of significance for purely marketing purposes. Pride month isn’t like the Black Friday sales. It has meaning and purpose.”
Them: “Appreciate you sharing this, very insightful read. Will share with my team.”
Baby steps towards progress and understanding – that’s all we can ask for.