une is Pride Month, a time for the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate and remember their history of activism and change. It’s also the time when many companies decide to pivot their marketing campaigns to appeal to the gay community. It’s no surprise considering that LGBTQIA+ people in the United States have a collective spending power of around $1 trillion.
That number may seem attractive for brands looking to cash in on Pride Month. However, actually marketing during Pride is trickier than it appears. A recent survey from GLAAD found “81% of advertisers believe inauthentic portrayals of LGBTQ consumers will lead to stronger backlash than no representation at all.”
That means many companies are more afraid of backlash from LGBTQIA+ consumers than from the general public. Why? Because there is a long history of brands participating in pride month in ways that feel performative or inauthentic to LGBTQIA+ consumers.
Authenticity is one of the most important factors in current media, and brands are not exempt from the movement. If influencers are thinking about working with a brand, they consider whether or not the brand’s ideologies align with their own. The most successful partnerships come from authentic connections, so when you can spot an inauthentic connection it results in a less successful partnership–and Pride Month is a prime time to spot those authentic and inauthentic partnerships.
This phenomenon is so common that people make memes mocking June brand campaigns like this one:
To avoid coming off as another tone-deaf organization during this year’s Pride Month, you should read ahead to learn more about the in’s and out’s of meme marketing during June.
What does bad Pride Month marketing look like?
Rainbow washing refers to when corporations and brands change their logo or packaging to a rainbow version in June. It’s meant to indicate progressive support for LGBTQIA+ rights and help brands gain consumer credibility.
Unfortunately, many LGBTQIA+ people see it as a shallow form of representation because most of those companies change back to their usual logo on July 1st. It’s become such a commonplace practice that memes about “companies when pride month ends” are popular during this time of the year.
The problem with rainbow washing is that it dilutes the history of activism associated with Pride Month. Just changing a logo to rainbow takes little effort and doesn’t have the same measurable impact as donating funds or promoting activism.
Alternatively, if a brand actively supports LGBTQIA+ ideologies and has ingrained those responsibilities into the voice of the brand, the rainbow logo change is more acceptable. However, because most LGBTQIA+ brands already are very vocal and supportive towards those causes, many don’t make any such logo changes at all.
EXAMPLE OF RAINBOW WASHING:
British supermarket chain Marks and Spencer faced backlash after releasing their Pride-themed sandwich. The promotional product was a twist on the classic BLT sandwich that included guacamole to make it an LGBT-themed sandwich.
Like other meme marketing failures, people on social media immediately began to make fun of Marks and Spencers. Many felt that the sandwich was a lazy effort at Pride Month marketing because it went for low-hanging fruit and equated LGBTQIA+ people with a sandwich. Others complained that the company did not make their commitment to donate $10,000 from sales clear enough on the packaging.
When Pride Month campaigns are done right, it can be a powerful form of marketing. 3 out of 4 ads with a focus on LGBTQIA+ people outperform generic ads. Additionally, 45% of people under 34 are more likely to do repeat business with an LGBTQIA+ friendly company. Those statistics prove that Pride Month marketing can work when it’s done right!
Unfortunately, Marks and Spencer lost the opportunity to really make a connection with their LGBTQIA+ customers with the sandwich campaign. The LGBT sandwich is a great example of “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.” Pride marketing stunts like this come off as lazy or profit-motivated. Your brand’s Pride Month campaign should show genuine allyship and commitment instead of looking like this meme featuring Mr. Krabs.
Don’t be discouraged! There are still ways to participate in Pride Month without tokenizing or offending the gay community. When crafting a marketing campaign for Pride month, keep these tips in mind to avoid becoming another example of rainbow washing.
- Hire and pay LGBTQIA+ creatives
LGBTQIA+ people have a long and vibrant history in meme culture (that’s how the memes about companies during Pride Month began!) You should capitalize on this and hire LGBTQIA+ creatives to write copy or create memes for your brand or business. It’s also a great way to avoid accidentally using outdated or offensive language.
- Be transparent about donations
Be upfront about how much revenue your brand has made from marketing Pride-themed concepts, and be transparent about where the donating proceeds from your company’s Pride-themed campaigns have gone. Consumers are savvy enough to research and fact-check your claims, so it’s important for your brand to be transparent and maintain people’s trust with honest communication.
- Just add a rainbow
Slapping a rainbow onto your existing logo or advertising is the definition of rainbow washing!
To avoid this, create meaningful content with Pride Month in mind so you don’t feel the need to add on a rainbow at the last minute. You can also feature one of the many other Pride flags (like the non-binary and trans pride flags) to show more in-depth knowledge of queer culture.
- Stop on July 1st
The most meaningful way your company can demonstrate its support towards the LGBTQIA+ community is by continuing your inclusivity efforts past July 1st and throughout the rest of the year. Doing this demonstrates a commitment to long-term change instead of short-term publicity, and makes your brand come off as more authentic in its support of LGBTQIA+ issues.
You can make an impact with your audience by extending your Pride Month commitments in marketing (such as featuring more diverse and gender noncomforming LGBTQIA+ people in your advertisements.) Doing this will show your customers that your brand values the gay community all year round, not just in June.
Pride Month is an exciting time for brands to connect with and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. The best way to make an impact on these consumers is to ditch the rainbow washing content they’re tired of seeing.
Think outside the box instead and try out some of our tips (like featuring more diverse people and flags in your campaigns.) These initiatives will not only resonate with your LGBTQIA+ customers, it will also show your company values equality and representation.
Keep our tips in mind when creating your meme marketing campaign for Pride Month this year!