During Pride month, celebrated annually throughout June, many brands are eager to demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ+ community. This often involves collaborating with LGBTQ+ influencers, showcasing stories of queer employees, launching rainbow-themed merchandise, or partnering with organisations that advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

However, there’s a crucial question you should be asking yourself: Is your brand genuinely supporting the LGBTQ+ community, or are you engaging in “rainbow washing”? This edition of Muse delves into the transformative potential of authentic Pride messaging in PR, inspiring a new approach to fostering brand trust, driving consumer engagement, and crafting sincere brand narratives.

Why authentic Pride campaigns are effective

A study conducted by LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation GLAAD revealed compelling insights into the impact of Pride campaigns. GLAAD’s 2024 research found that nearly three in four LGBTQ+ adults and over two in five non-LGBTQ adults say they are more likely to purchase a product or service from a company or brand that supports the LGBTQ community.

However, getting it wrong can have the reverse effect, and brands can be understandably cautious. In a separate GLAAD survey of 200 advertisers, 81% agreed that “an inauthentic execution of LGBTQ people and scenarios would lead to a more significant backlash than not featuring them in ads at all.

Understanding Rainbow-Washing

Rainbow-washing is one of the most common criticisms brands face over Pride-centric campaigns. The term refers to superficial gestures of support for the LGBTQ+ community, primarily aimed at boosting a brand’s image and sales without any meaningful commitment to the cause.

This can include changing social media logos to rainbow colours, creating colourful ads, or launching rainbow-themed products that do not contribute to or genuinely support the LGBTQ+ community.

Why rainbow-washing hurts

For brands, rainbow-washing erodes trust because consumers, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community, can see through inauthentic gestures. This can lead to a loss of trust and loyalty.

Not only can rainbow-washing damage a brand’s reputation, but it can also have further-reaching consequences on the community it impacts.

For example, by presenting a facade of support without taking real action, brands can mislead consumers and undermine genuine efforts toward LGBTQ+ equality.  Superficial support without addressing deeper issues can perpetuate the marginalisation of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chain known for its chicken sandwiches, is a case study of how rainbow-washing can play out. In 2012, Chick-fil-A faced criticism for publicly expressing support for LGBTQ+ initiatives through events and rainbow-themed merchandise while still donating to organisations opposing LGBTQ+ rights and the CEO making statements against same-sex marriage. Despite releasing a statement on the matter, Chick-fil-A has continued to face accusations of rainbow-washing.

The key to avoiding rainbow-washing is continuous and comprehensive support. Brands need to integrate LGBTQ+ support into their core values and operations beyond just Pride Month. This involves policies that support LGBTQ+ employees, inclusive marketing strategies, and genuine engagement with LGBTQ+ communities.

Continue to our next article to learn how to get a Pride Month campaign right.