The brand PR solution to avoid ‘rainbow-washing’ during Pride is simple: be niche

'Rainbow-washing' is when brands and organisations celebrate queer people in a way that appears more to value self-promotion and being performative over actually tackling the issues faced by LGBT+ people.

If you're going to do Pride, go 'small' or go home, Lewis Oakley advises brands
If you're going to do Pride, go 'small' or go home, Lewis Oakley advises brands

Over the years, Pride has seen some great wins and some epic fails with brand participation. For brands and their PRs, getting the balance right in Pride month has never been more complex. As both a bisexual and a PR, I see both sides.

On the one hand, we LGBT+ folk should be happy to see brands embracing the rainbow. It’s not only a testament to the work of queer campaigners before us, but it is also reassuring for people who work at or use those brands to feel the support.

On the other hand, many LGBT+ people and organisations are growing tired of brands throwing rainbows at things and considering it progress. The lack of true understanding of issues is obvious and irritating to the community.

The truth is – 'rainbow-washing' is lost potential. All that money, all those resources, all those bright minds, and "let’s make our logo a rainbow" is the best we can do?

The sad part is that the answer is so simple: brands must go smaller – not in scale, but in how many issues they want to cover.

Inclusivity is actually what is holding us back. Trying to be broad and show our love for all queer people robs campaigns of any true meaning. What can you say outside of: "Generally be nice and respect people"? It is possible for a brand to say: "We are here for the whole community, but this year we are focusing on this specific issue."

Many people who work or campaign around LGBT+ issues will tell you that unique issues (ones felt by a particular section of the community but not necessarily all) are often neglected. That’s where brands can meaningfully come in.

For example: we know no research has been conducted asking bisexual people whether they are more or less likely to use a condom with a man or a woman. This is an issue that is unique to bi people. As a result, it is largely neglected.

Yet, it is an important issue. This would be strong safeguarding research that could inform decisions and campaigns around bisexual health. It’s a perfect issue for a condom/safe-sex brand to own by carrying out the research and discussing the findings in the media.

There are many issues like this in the LGBT+ community. Brands need to choose their queer niche and decide which area they want to highlight. As PRs, it is on us to identify the issues most closely linked with the brand and advise the best approach.

The sky truly is the limit if we bring back strategic thinking, creativity and abandon the ‘throw a rainbow flag at it’ attitude.

With a little shift in their approach, brands can not only use Pride to magnify their message, but provide actual change and improvement for LGBT+ people.

Lewis Oakley is client manager at Milk & Honey PR and a member of the Pride Power List Top 100 2021


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