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Avoid Rainbow Washing: 7 Inspiring Ideas to Build an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Brand

  • Updated: 14 June 2022
  • 8 min read

The month of June is a colourful and busy period for businesses all around. Companies take this opportunity to show support for LGBTQ equality through pride campaigns that talk about LGBTQ discrimination and gender identity. From launching a slew of exclusive rainbow-coloured merchandise to doing inspirational campaigns, Instagram feeds and storefronts are filled with the pride flag as far as the eye can see. The month of June is commemorated as the Pride month to recognise the LGBTQ community and their struggles for equality.

While this may seem like a delightful way of showing good support for an otherwise marginalised group, people are quick to call out companies that are donning the rainbow flag for the sake of advertising but show no support year-round. This is called rainbow washing.

What is Rainbow Washing?

Rainbow Washing is when companies use the rainbow imagery or the rainbow flag on their merchandise to show allyship and progressive support for LGBTQ communities, but with minimum effort or actual benefits.

Brands are extensively using rainbow colours on their storefronts and logos indulging in performative activism to monetise the cause. This act is called rainbow washing.

But customers today have very low tolerance and are quick to call out brands that champion the LGBTQ cause to push products while doing very little to make a difference to support the LGBTQ community.

Response to businesses using or adding rainbow colors and pink washing for profit, not to show genuine support

Companies need to think beyond the rainbow and use of the representative colours and or imagery. They must make proactive changes to their policies and support LGBTQIA+ charities to show that they genuinely support the cause and set higher standards for themselves.

Brands that show genuine commitment and become the community’s ally all year round perform better than those that are anti-gay. According to popular information, 90% of the gay community supported companies that stood for LGBTQ people through their efforts or pragmatic result that lasted the year round and not just in June.

So, what can you do to build meaningful campaigns that show allyship to the LGBTQ community throughout the year and avoid being called out for 'rainbow washing'? Let’s look at a few campaigns that could inspire you.

LGBTQIA+ Campaigns that Inspire You

Revolut

Last year, the fintech company Revolut released exclusive rainbow cards for the LGBTQ community in the UK and Europe as a part of the pride month celebration. While ordering the card, the customer had to make a minimum of £3.00 donation to ILGA-Europe, which supports the LGBTQ community in Central Asia. They can also set up recurring weekly or monthly contributions to the charity through the app. The payments would be made directly without any hidden fee. For every rainbow card ordered, the company has promised to donate £1.00 to ILGA-Europe.

To make it more engaging, Revolut started a campaign wherein the customer had to share a creative image of the rainbow-coloured pride card against the backdrop of museums or art galleries with pride exhibits. They had to tag Revolut on Instagram and Twitter. The lucky winner would win a good £5,000.

Response to businesses using or adding rainbow colors and pink washing for profit, not to show genuine support

Revolut aimed to do tangible work and bring a positive change to the LGBTQ community through this idea and go beyond just rainbows, colours and/or imagery.

 

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 Companies should aim to go beyond adding rainbows to their website and recognise the struggles of the LGBTQ people. Show that you genuinely care by partnering with causes that work for the LGBTQ community's rights. Include user-generated content (UGC) by asking customers to share pictures with the product exclusively built for pride month.

VisitOSLO

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the LGBTQIA+ population makes up 10% of the tourists worldwide. They contribute $195 billion a year through travelling.

Travel companies have started recognising and supporting their contribution and building campaigns and policies to uplift them.

Norway holds annual pride festivals (unlike 'rainbow washing') to show they are a safe place for LGBTQ people throughout the year. One such campaign they did was VisitOslo’s “The Proud Experience”. Norway’s largest festival shows 'inclusion and support' for the LGBTQIA+ population.

Thinking beyond Rainbow Washing - Visit Oslo's parade in the month of june

In 2018, the festival had LGBTQ from countries like the Czech Republic and Turkey participate in the parade. The tourists from these countries were a part of a film that gained 1.3 million views on social media. The film was shared by major LGBTQIA+ organisations and groups on Facebook and featured in LGBTQIA+ newsletters.

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 Brands can collaborate with key influencers and micro-influencers to create authentic content that shows on-ground celebrations or tells a story. This helps the customer see the brand as a credible one that stands with “Pride”.

Norway's campaign 'VisitOSLO's support went beyond 'Rainbow washing' and can be a marketing example showing support to LGBTQ people throughout the year!

Travelzoo

Travelzoo is a global travel company that offers exclusive travel experiences to people. They have over 28 million members worldwide. In June of 2019, they initiated a global campaign to show their support and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

Thinking beyond Rainbow Washing and rainbow colors - TravelZoo

In the UK, Travelzoo partnered with Gaydio - the UK’s largest radio station, to support pride events across the country. The business offered special discounts and featured LGBTQIA+ friendly destinations like Malta, Denmark, and Portugal, ranking high on ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Index. They also wrote exclusive content on celebrations happening around the world to inform people about the places to visit.

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 Marketers must attempt to think beyond rainbow washing marketing campaigns and using rainbow colours and deliver more informative content to educate readers. Exploring partnerships with media house businesses that work with the LGBTQIA+ market will help them create an impact.

 

Preferred Hotels and Resorts

Since 2010, the Preferred Hotel Group has run a unique program called the Preferred Paid Programme. The group curated 160 independent luxury hotels with the LGBTQIA+ community’s preferences at the centre of their programme to show their support to the LGBTQ people.

The aim was to unite the community and introduce them to independent hoteliers worldwide who support them. It was also considered a platform for hoteliers to understand the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. Since then, the business has gained popularity as a faithful ally among the LGBTQ community.

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 Provide an unforgettable personalised experience to LGBTQ communities.

Marketers must keep the needs of the LGBTQIA+ population at the centre of their campaigns, which means that just using a rainbow-coloured flag will not do!

From training the staff to creating pride-driven products, every touchpoint in the customer journey must be committed to delivering a consistent and memorable experience to the community.

Harry’s

The men’s grooming company Harry’s celebrated with its “Stride with Pride” digital campaign encouraging consumers to celebrate their identity. It invited LGBTQ creators to share the crucial moments in their life that helped them stride with pride.

Harry’s also introduced a special shaving kit called "Shaving With Pride". The set was designed in partnership with illustrator Zipeng Zhu.

Harry’s also contributed £10 to Albert Kennedy Trust, which supports the homeless LGBTQ youth, for every set purchased.

Thinking beyond Rainbow Washing and rainbow colors - TravelZoo

Apart from that, Harry’s launched a new website with videos of artists like Madam Adrienne Muse and author Jamie Windust and the places that shaped their identities. The objective was to focus on and highlight that the level of pride acceptance didn’t happen overnight. It happened after a constant struggle and it happened stride by stride.

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 Your customers love stories. Instead of indulging in rainbow washing, sharing stories of well-known influencers from the community builds engagement and gives others the strength to share their stories or come out to their loved ones, making it less of a marketing gimmick and more of a show of genuine support!

To indicate progressive support by your business, you could also collaborate with LGBTQIA+ artists or influencers to design exclusive merchandise or products for various marketing campaigns. This will give you an opportunity to be truly supportive and earn customer credibility.

 

Dr Martens

Dr Martens designed exclusive genderless shoes called “1461 for Pride Oxford” to create awareness about LGBTQIA+ rights. They developed its signature shoes with rainbow-coloured stitching around them.

For the marketing of these shoes, they also added real-time social media feeds to their emails to increase followers and give subscribers style inspiration.

Beyond corporate pride and Rainbow Washing - Dr Martens Shoes

Dr Marten also donated $25,000 to Trevor’s project - the world’s largest suicide prevention organisation for the young members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 An omnichannel approach is vital to communicate your message consistently.

Embedding a live social media feed to email is a great way to improve open and conversion rates. Brands can consider sending dynamic emails to improve engagement and conversions without it looking like advertising only.

HSBC UK

The banking giant has made it easier for the LGBTQIA+ population to change their names and add gender-neutral titles. The business also trained the frontline employees in supporting the customer with these changes minus any form of rainbow washing advertising stunts.

Beyond corporate pride and Rainbow Washing - Dr Martens Shoes

 

Key lessons to takeaway from the campaign

🎯 Strive to build seamless experiences across all touchpoints without focusing on advertising campaigns alone for the month of June.

The benefit of such initiatives doesn't stay limited to just June. It is a great way to demonstrate that you support LGBTQ communities, understand their challenges, and provide genuine support via your business.

How to Get Started?

These advertising campaigns are excellent examples that have proved that moving beyond rainbow washing and creating authentic, personalised content is a great way to build long-term engagements and brand loyalty. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you start:

Avoid cliched representations

Companies often use stock images of parades or have a clichéd notion of how the community looks or behaves. Showing authentic, on-ground photos can help build credibility, and your progressive support demonstrates that you care for queer people.

Show it in your actions

82% of non-LGBTQ buyers said they would purchase from a brand that supports the community and treats them equally. Show your commitment to LGBTQ equality and earn respect through actions such as hiring community employees and celebrating diversity in the workplace.

Make all your touchpoints inclusive

Build a seamless journey for your consumers by showcasing inclusiveness at all digital and physical touchpoints. For example, ensure that your staff is trained to interact with the community respectfully. You must also ensure that your digital touchpoints are LGBTQIA+ friendly.

Imbibe the principles of empathy and authenticity

Companies are increasingly aware of pride month and are using it for their pride campaigns. Businesses that do sponsored posts with "#pride" saw 2x more engagement, while non-sponsored ones witnessed 24% more engagement. However, they need to think beyond keywords and hashtags. Authenticity is key to building successful engagement campaigns. Humanise your posts, and be vocal about the community's rights and inclusion.

Have year-long campaigns

Your consumers can easily differentiate between businesses that care for them and those only looking for profit.

Ensure you build meaningful, personalised conversations around the community during pride month and throughout the year. This will encourage a deeper relationship with your customer.

Reach out to your customer through the proper channels at the right time

While building an authentic Pride campaign is crucial, your customer also expects these campaigns to be personalised. Capturing the right customer, journey and campaign insights will help you start a meaningful conversation with your customer. To see what insights European marketers are capturing to personalise engagement, read our latest survey report, “The State of Insights-led Engagement 2022 - Europe Edition.

It's great to see businesses trying to get closer to their customers and gain a deeper understanding of their preferences. Real affinity comes with being thoughtful and authentic and sharing values. Brands can and must support equal rights and above all remember, the customer is human.

 

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About The Author
Sanjeevani is a content marketer with a strong belief that storytelling and targeted messaging create business-changing content. When she's not busy writing, you can find her playing fetch with her dog or singing along to some good blues music.
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