As June arrives every year, companies globally capitalize on Pride in their company advertising – whether that’s turning their logo into a rainbow flag, voicing their support on social media, or launching a product specifically marketed to the LGBTQ+ community. Pride advertising spending has also increased every year – even with a dip in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent broad cancellation of events around the world – and LGBTQ+ publications are doing better than ever. However, as those statistics grow, concerns about “rainbow washing” are also growing louder every year.
What is “rainbow washing”?
“Rainbow washing” is the term that refers to the increased amount of rainbow imagery, products, and slogans during the month of June. While some companies with rainbow-themed products or logos are genuine in their allyship, the authenticity and intention of many comes into question when inclusive policies are not enacted, or when those same companies are actively fighting against the LGBTQ community.
Politicians have called out this increasing phenomenon, and the #KeepYourPride movement has also specifically highlighted advertisers using Pride marketing to boost sales during the month of June while simultaneously supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation. Smart Insights tells marketers that “[too] many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy purely to improve product sales. Being seen to do this can actually do more harm than good and see people trusting your brand less – as many brands found when producing marketing for Pride Month”. Staple institutions of the queer community are also taking a stance, including the historic Stonewall Inn, which has banned Budweiser this year due to its inauthentic, rainbow-washed marketing campaign.
As voices from all corners grow denouncing this practice, publishers need to examine when they’re publishing LGBTQ content and understand how inclusivity is not only morally right and important for community-led journalism, but is profitable as well.
Brand trust is good for business, and there is no shortcut
Younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z hold brand trust in high regard, and are skeptical of any company that uses marketing hype - like rainbows or articles on the LGBTQ community only in June – to pander to their perceived interests instead of offering evergreen content that authentically speaks to them as an audience. This is also increasingly important considering the high rates of media consumption among younger LGBTQ generations.
As these new generations becomes dominant both socially and as media consumers with an increasing buying power, establishing and maintaining trust in spite of their skepticism is crucial for publishers. Just as tokenism from various brands and advertisers is being criticized more and more loudly, publishers equally won’t be able to get away with inconsistent Pride campaigns that only appear during June.
What publishers should focus on next
Examine your editorial calendar
Inclusivity in the content you have planned – that reaches beyond the month of June – fosters an authentic relationship with readers and brands. PinkNews in the UK has seen advertisers extending their Pride “season” of advertising as they’re recognizing the tokenism of only advertising during a single month.
Publishers need to adopt a similar mindset, ensuring your content about and for this audience reaches beyond a single season to build brand trust. This will also build a diverse audience that’s dedicated to your publication, and encourage interest in subscriptions year-round (and reduce churn as they recognize your commitment to a diverse editorial calendar). A diverse, inclusive audience is your best asset, both from the perspective of attracting big name advertisers and generating subscription revenue.
Prep your sales team
Make sure your sales team is knowledgeable about trends and audiences, including that LGBTQ+ audience. The value of their understanding of this audience cannot be underestimated – without it, your likeliness of success in having authentic engagement with them is diminished. The stats are clear: brands that are consistent in inclusivity do better than those that treat Pride like a one-off campaign and your sales team is integral to that.
Social justice and revenue in the publishing industry are closely tied and can be a beautiful or corrupt relationship. As audiences pay more attention to these causes and their impacts, publishers have an opportunity to be the voices of their communities, foster brand trust through authentic communication, and contribute to subscription gains simultaneously.