Commentary

A Guide To Defying Rainbow-Washing

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?

Context for the Culture

Slapping a rainbow onto a product or T-shirt and calling it LGTBQ+ support is simply the appropriation of a symbol of joy and oppression. In the new normal of our hybrid IRL/URL world, Pride is long past time to be an evergreen marketing platform.

Are we there yet?

Brands That Are Already There

World of Wonder: The RuPaul’s “Drag Race” phenomenon isn’t just a TV show, but a massive ecosystem with franchises in a dozen countries, Drag Con events and a content platform.

Procter Gamble’s “Can’t Cancel Pride'' 2020 virtual event attracted 1 billion-plus impressions and 40 million-plus views. In 2021, P&G released a landmark study with GLAAD, “LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media,” and doubled down with its Pantene shampoo commercial featuring lesbian moms with a transgender child.

Pepsico: Bubly “Drag for All Flavors,” a year-round showcase of talent from people of color, drag kings, and transgender queens, has generated 3.5+ million impressions and 36% engagement.

Citi was the first bank to launch a version of Mastercard’s “True Name” initiative in the U.S., allowing trans and nonbinary people to have financial products in their self-identified first name.

Barriers, Opportunities to Pride 365

We still have a long way to go. Misrepresentation, appropriation, seasonalism, tokenism, keyword blocking, internal watchdogs and the yoke of “brand safety” are clear challenges affecting Pride 365 work. But tides change and brands that navigate that line, celebrating and participating in the fight in a meaningful way, will break through.

Avoid Rainbow Washing

Get your house in order: Recognize that the 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. 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. Due to the impact of gentrification and the pandemic, 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. Jagermeister has 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.

Are We There Yet?

Brands must accelerate the drive for inclusion and keep pace with cultural currents by addressing the new – because new problems guide to new values and spaces, new accountability and inventiveness. That’s what the LGBTQ+ community demands.

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