Revolut’s campaign shows why we need to talk about ‘pinkwashing’ in finance

Thanks to the emergence of socially conscious consumers, cause-led marketing is here to stay. But what are the rules of engagement, where should brands venture, and where should they avoid?

Revolut's desire to signal overwhelmed any authenticity of the virtue, argues Harriet Allner
Revolut's desire to signal overwhelmed any authenticity of the virtue, argues Harriet Allner

While cause-led marketing is powerful stuff, we also know that it is only truly effective when a brand shows long-term support for an issue, turning words into actions. Companies that are consistent win.

Brands that miss the mark are instead held to account for performative PR and comms.

Take greenwashing – where a company presents itself as being more environmentally sound than it actually is. We’ve seen huge backlash against brands from Shell to the Science Museum when it comes to superficial stances on sustainability.

Likewise, the criticism of brands turning their logos rainbow during Pride (and only during Pride) have been shown time and again to undermine a brand and its relationship with consumers.

When Revolut’s #InvestInYourself campaign went live, the reaction from women online was almost instantaneous.

Responses ranged from earnest and curious to incredulous, disappointed and scathing.

Why? Because it felt insincere. It looked like the co-opting of a gendered issue for corporate interests.

For background, the campaign focuses on the under-discussed issue of period poverty. It includes an offer of £5 a month to Revolut’s premium “Metal” users to cover the costs of period products from Yoppie, an organic menstrual care start-up.

The aim, according to the press release, is to provide a monthly saving on an essential cost for women in the UK so that they can put that money to better use.

Opening a conversation on period poverty is vital. But from the visceral reaction, it’s clear that there are doubts on whether it’s an issue that a brand like Revolut should be trying to own.

In the UK, period poverty affects one in six women and girls at some point in their life. It can have a huge impact on their education and careers – and it has been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Revolut has a gender pay gap of 31.2 per cent (compared to the UK average of 11.9 per cent) and just 27 per cent of its workforce is female. It has been called out before for sexist advertising.

Plus this financial support is only available to customers who can afford a £12.99-a-month (or £155-a-year) premium account. It doesn’t support the thousands of women and girls living with period poverty today.

It begs the question: is this authentic cause-led marketing or pinkwashing?

When it comes to financial PR, we know that cause-branding allows brands – from banks to challenger fintechs – to build consideration by aligning them in meaningful ways to their audience.

Cause-led campaigns such as Starling Bank’s #MakeMoneyEqual, Mastercard’s ‘Nobody in the Dark’ campaign, or Zurich UK’s ‘Youth Against Carbon’ have been commended for their work in changing the narrative and leading on issues from inclusivity to sustainability.

Ultimately, Revolut’s campaign started a conversation about period poverty. The cause is more than credible, the effort valuable and, no doubt, built with good intentions.

Unfortunately, the execution let it down, with the desire to signal overwhelming any authenticity of the virtue – resulting in a reminder of past cultural challenges and raising the weary spectre of reputation.

If you’re going to do some cause-led PR, get your own house in order first, and set yourself up for the long run.

Be authentic and be consistent. It’s the only way to avoid those empty tropes and ensure the work lands with today’s conscious consumers.

Harriet Allner is associate director, Fintech, at Common Industry

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