Hijacking the Rainbow

Summer 2019… Up and down the nation major brands and their storefronts are emblazoned with multi-coloured displays and LGBTQ+ slogans, such as ‘Love Is Love”, covering a number of their products and pieces of clothing.

This year has seen the majority wanting ‘in’ on Pride, however, this only comes two decades after brands pulled their advertising from the American sitcom; Ellen, after Ellen DeGeneres came out to the public as being gay. It seems that a multitude of brands now can’t wait to market their goods to queer people and their allies. 

This summer has seen International brands update their logos with variations of the popular and well-recognised rainbow design, to mark the beginning of LGBTQ+ Pride. Diversity and inclusion is such a prominent and pressing subject in modern culture, so much so that many brands are involving themselves with Pride by updating their packaging and products, sponsoring events or creating in-store displays. But, such attempts to profit from the rainbow, without giving back to the community, could ultimately damage a brand. 

Already this year behemoth brands such as M&S, Ralph Lauren, Boohoo, Ikea, Dr.Martens, Primark, Adidas, Converse, Skittles, Virgin Atlantic, Reebok, Levis, Apple, Nike, Abercrombie & Fitch, Starbucks, Disney, John Lewis and ASOS have put their name behind the cause. Even Listerine and Donald Trump (seriously!) are selling pride products to varying degrees of apathy, bewilderment and, in Trump’s case, utter indignation from members of the LGBTQ+ community.

How can we distinguish when these Pride related promotions are genuine attempts at supporting the LGBTQ+ community and when they are just, as it’s referred to, rainbow washing?

LGBTQ+ Pride is the positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people to promote their self-affirmation, dignity, equality and to increase their visibility as a social group and community. 

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. In the early hours of Saturday 28th – June 1969, police conducted raids against members of the LGBTQ+ community at the Stonewall Inn in New York City – a gay bar in Manhattan. Three nights of unrest followed as members of the LGBT community decided enough was enough and stood up to fight back. Lesbians and trans women of colour were some of the key people involved in the act of resistance, including Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.

Whilst Pride is a celebration, it isn’t just about the rainbow and glitter. The LGBTQ+ community still faces daily exclusion and experiences discrimination within society. It is as much about celebrating how far they’ve come, as it is about continuing the fight and struggle for equality and acceptance. Briefly changing your brand’s logo, to incorporate the colours of the rainbow, is simply not doing enough and people will, if they aren’t already, beginning to notice. 

Commercialising and capitalising on this celebration, without genuinely backing it with real action and support, can have a detrimental effect on consumers, as they will begin to identify this superficial gesture of support. According to research, conducted by Reboot Online, two in five companies with Pride campaigns are donating no proceeds to LGBT+ causes this year. This study further demonstrated that one in ten people actively avoid purchasing Pride products, because they believe they are being exploited. 

So before a brand colourise their logo for LGBTQ+ Pride or any other impactful cause, they need to ask themselves two questions – Is my brand making a substantial contribution to the cause we have embodied? And, are we prepared to consistently support this?