Good Pride Month Promos Need More Than Just Rainbows
With June being Pride Month, consumer brands and service providers are trying hard to connect with their customers within the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
Over the last week, you’ve probably noticed that a brand you follow or buy from has added some sort of Pride-themed aesthetic to its branding. Maybe it’s a rainbow logo on social media. Maybe it’s rainbow packaging. Some go bigger than others, but it’s meant to convey the message that this company supports the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2019, Forbes found that 66% of LGBTQ+ adults “would be very or somewhat likely to remain loyal to a company or brand they believed to be supportive of the LGBT community, even when less-supportive competitors offered lower prices or greater convenience.”
Of course, it’s great to see companies using their platforms and reach to spread the message of LGBTQ+ acceptance, but simply adding a rainbow to a product or posting on social media without any concrete action can come off as disingenuous or shallow.
That practice of just using the community’s colors for the sake of appearing supportive of the cause is what USA Today called “rainbow capitalism.”
"On the one hand, it promotes acceptance in the sense that it's normalizing something that does need to continue to be normalized and accepted,” psychologist Joshua Coleman told USA Today. “But I think there's also a kind of annoyance about the rank hypocrisy of some of these companies, which in the past might have actively discriminated against the LGBT community.”
That same Forbes article from 2019 also looked at big-name companies with reputations for LGBTQ+ advocacy on a public stage, and found that many of those companies also donated millions of dollars to politicians that supported anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
For example, Walmart changed its Twitter avatar to a rainbow version of its logo. However, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union published a report stating that 94% of Walmart's political donations from 2000 to 2012 went to candidates who were "opposed or silent on the issue of marriage equality."
Information like that is readily available in the year 2021. Customers aren’t as easily swayed when they can look up what these CEOs or companies actually support, rainbow products or not.
And because of that, it takes a lot more than just a pride-themed product for a company to form a connection with shoppers on the grounds of LGBTQ+ support. For one thing, that’s because society is different now than it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Flying a rainbow flag might have once been a radical show of support, but now it’s closer to the bare minimum. The fight has changed, so to speak.
Think about it from the perspective of a similar altruistic endeavor: environmental activism. Within the promotional products industry alone, there are a ton of companies using eco-friendly messaging to push their products. This could be T-shirts made with recycled material, reusable water bottles that eliminate the need for single-use plastic, a manufacturing process that cuts down on water usage, etc.
When you see these products on a website or at a trade show, it likely comes with a story about how the product was developed, how the company was inspired, and the real numbers about what this product does. How many plastic bottles it prevents from ending up in the ocean. How many gallons of water it saves compared to other ways of making that shirt.
Pride-themed merchandise should be no different. A rainbow on a product is nice, and ostensibly it shows support. But without the story attached to it, it’s surface-level only. Does this product benefit a particular organization? Is it a collaboration with a particular activist group within the LGBTQ+ community?
To continue the eco-friendly analogy, it would be like making a shirt that just says “save the whales” without ever actually doing anything to support conservation efforts. It’s a nice message, sure. But what does it actually do to advance the cause?
Without that messaging and story, your customers run the risk of looking like “rainbow capitalists,” co-opting a color scheme for profit alone, even if that is totally not the case.
Chris Stedman, a professor of religion at Augsburg University and expert in digital communication, told CNN that using the rainbow flag and cliche phrases attributed to the community like “Yas Queen” often comes off as patronizing.
“It feels like a violation in some ways, because these companies are taking our language, our memes and our norms, and using them for their own gain without fully understanding them or investing in the community,” he said. “This language and imagery emerged in spaces that have been a refuge for people who haven’t been safe and welcome in other communities. And I think that’s why people are so bothered by it.”
For companies looking to do something for Pride Month, the best way to show they're part of the fight is to actually be a part of it.
“You cannot just market to our community,” GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis told CNN. “You have to join the movement, and that’s a social justice movement. You need to speak you when there is bad legislation, especially when you have outsized influence.”
Pride Month is much more than rainbows. And for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s more than just one month out of the year for parade floats and festivals. For products that are meant to appeal to the community and allies, avoid cliches and memes with no real substance.
For distributors whose clients are looking for Pride Month promos, the best advice you can give is to be genuine in your messaging and back up your message with real, year-round support.