Is it celebrating equality or is it just pinkwashing?
From queer themed advertising campaigns to rainbow branded logos, why do brands get involved during pride month? and more importantly should they?

It’s June, and by about 2pm on the 1st, many brands had already updated their company logos on social media sites to some form of rainbow embedded in their branding to celebrate pride month. But from the logos, the rainbow branded products to the pride themed campaigns, are brands contributing anything to the LGTBQ+ community by doing any of this?

In recent years, the population of the community have grown so much so over 5.4% of the UK are openly queer. Although they are a minor group in society, they are getting more media attention than ever before (arguably both positive and negative coverage), allowing people to grow up learning that there is more than just the typical ‘nuclear family’ and now we’re starting to redefine what the word ‘family’ means all together. 
Brands are starting to show this change away from old-fashioned family structures through their adverts by no longer only casting a mother, a father and two children. Instead, they’re stepping into the 21st century and starting to feature members of the LGBTQ+ community as it’s important to reflect changes in society through the adverts we see. However, a lot of these adverts only take place in June during pride month…

Marketing and advertising during pride then raises the questions “Why do brands need to get involved?”
Many argue that it’s important for an educational tool to help represent the society we live in. But it’s now got to a stage where so many brands take part it’s almost questionable when a brand doesn’t get involved. That’s where the issue of pinkwashing arises as being involved in pride in order to seem ‘woke’ and ‘fit in’ might involve taking advantage of the community to try and wash away things a brand may have previously done that has had a direct negative impact on queer people.

Because at the end of the day, Shein selling a £6.99 rainbow dress isn’t going to make an impact to what was originally started as a riot against discrimination and police brutality. People don’t want rainbow dresses; they want equal human rights.  
Brands can however use their platform and large audiences to raise these issues, but as long as it’s raising awareness of the issues or helping support pride, rather than creating a better image for themselves or even a step further, creating profit off the event through unnecessary rainbow products which would fall into rainbow capitalism.
If these are new terms to you, here are some definitions:
Pinkwashing: a term used to describe the action of using gay-related issues in positive ways to distract attention from negative actions by an organisation, country or government (Schulman, 2011).
Rainbow capitalism: Commodification of things related to LGBTQ+ culture, especially the concept of gay pride (Tongson, quoted in Moniuszko, 2021).
While it’s easy to talk about the many failed attempts at pride marketing, one campaign that has successfully carried out their messaging during pride is Skittles (not to mention they were one of the first FMCG brands to even mention pride). For many years now, they have created a product for Pride, but in a nonconventional way compared to other brands. Skittles flip rainbow capitalism on its head by removing the brands infamous rainbow to a plain white and black branding with the slogan, ‘Only one rainbow matters during Pride’.  

Not only does the profits of these limited-edition products raise money for Pride, more importantly it’s sharing the message that they’re taking a step back to let other people talk and use the rainbow. Last year, Skittles brought this to life a step further by commissioning queer artist to show their interpretation of the rainbow on their packaging, again using their platform to let someone else speak.
It’s not only the queer community growing, but the number of allies has also had a significant increase over the past few years too meaning there are more people than ever before judging the authenticity of a brand based on their legitimacy during pride. That means that consumers today are very good at smelling inauthenticity as authenticity is grounded in actions.
"In the same way we wouldn’t make an advert aimed towards women without any female creatives in the room (this isn’t mad men anymore), we shouldn’t be creating pride adverts with just cis straight creatives. We’re getting better, but we can’t represent a group – or person – without having someone in there to make sure that it’s a respectful representation.” (Bamback, quoted in Osborne & Rimoldi, 2021)
While there is no golden rule in creating the perfect advert during Pride as like with any campaign, there will always be some criticisms, there are a few things brands and agencies should consider before going live: 
- Who made the advert? Are they part of the LGBTQ+ community or was there any consultation with members?
- Has the brand recently had a negative interaction with the community and are wanting to create a campaign for the main purpose of covering it up?
- Does the level of support for the campaign run through the entire brands ethos and actions? It’s not just done out of the blue for publicity.

While there are definitely other questions, we should ask ourselves before launching a campaign during pride, if you can answer these three correctly and are creating something that celebrates love and makes people feel welcome then you’re onto a winner.  
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