Get your fake-shiny rainbows out of my face

NFA's Jack Latulippe explains why he (and your customers) are feeling exhausted by rainbow logos and product lines.

By Jack Latulippe

It’s Pride Month, which means that it’s that time of the year where we are being pinkwashed (or rainbow-washed, or Pride-washed) left and right.

Companies are changing their logos for the rainbow colored version of their brand identity. Influencers are getting phone calls for collabs because of their “sparkle” and their “fabulous and vivacious energy,” while press releases are littered with words like “confidence” and “self-expression” to avoid actually saying the word “gay.” Advertising agencies are creating ads and social posts that say “Queen!” and “Yasss!” in the most uncomfortable and irrelevant way.

I’m exhausted and we haven’t gotten to the parade yet. And based on the social posts and semi-viral videos skewering the corporate language around Pride partnerships, so are your customers.

In reality, it’s not about if brands should celebrate Pride in any shape or form, but rather how they should do it in an informed and pertinent way. Do you really care about that demographic or are you just using this as another moment in time to activate your marketing?

A few years ago, I was with my family in New York City and we had to walk through Times Square. My four year old nephew saw a life size version of Elmo, his favorite Sesame Street character. He was very excited and wanted a photo with the mascot. We celebrated Sesame Street for an instant, took a photo and were on our way.

My nephew is now a young man and he shared that photo with me not too long ago while we were reminiscing about that trip. The more I was looking at it, the more I saw the red mascot for what it was – an unemployed actor wearing a tired, dirty costume and a “tips” sign.

It was a fake-shiny memory. And that’s exactly how I see pinkwashing: sea of fake-shiny rainbows flying in the wind.

And by fake-shiny I mean companies that sell rainbow key chains, water bottles, t-shirts and even full clothing lines without any meaningful action or contribution to the community. I mean companies that put two men or two women in their ads and think they are being progressive, but all the while, they are endorsing anti-2SLGBTQ+ politicians. I mean companies that remove any sign of allyship the minute Pride is over (until the next year). Printing a rainbow or the word “werk!” on your merch does not mean you care or that you are involved. It’s shallow and meaningless.

It needs to come from a place of education, authenticity and conscience. And that comes with true inclusivity at its core, which most often starts with brand purpose.

A brand who is clearly defined and knows why they exist and why people should care about them will act as a true leader and have a clear POV that will allow them to act a certain way out in the world. And we can spot those brands from a mile away. They are the true allies and they often are not the ones with the biggest rainbows. But we still feel the love and the connection.

A good example is Dr. Martens. Already a well-loved brand by many 2SLGBTQ+ people, it didn’t just drop its new Oxford shoes with a rainbow flag for Pride. It also gave a $200,000 contribution to The Trevor Project as part of its ongoing partnership with the organization for 2SLGBTQ+ youth, well ahead of other corporate donations that are typically in four-to-five digit range and are often tied to buying a product. And it also released a content series that dives into the history of Pride, including one on its roots as a protest movement, something that is also a part of the Dr. Martens brand.

So, as the industry that we are, we need to educate our clients on how to do better when it comes to Pride and the 2SLGBTQ+ community. If you don’t know how to do that, start by adding queer creatives to your group. Invest in learning, read a book, watch a movie. We need to support the community financially and creatively, beyond the rainbow logos.

Although this is going to be different for every brand, start by bringing in and paying queer creatives for the work you output for the community during Pride. Ask them to do a presentation about Pride to your group. Safeguard your creatives and the queer people you put in your ads from comments and abuse so they actually want to be involved.

One thing is for certain: pinkwashing cannot be normalized. And until we all do better, kindly get your fake-shiny rainbow out of my face.

Jack Latulippe is partner and CCO at No Fixed Address Montreal.