How to Avoid Rainbow Washing Marketing While Being LGBTQ-Inclusive

Updated on September 22, 2023

5 min to read

Head of Marketing @ Vista Social

Published June 30, 2022

How to Avoid Rainbow Washing Marketing While Being LGBTQ-Inclusive
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Wondering how to avoid rainbow washing marketing while being LGBTQ-inclusive? This article is for you!

Pride month is celebrated in June, and many brands are looking to show their support during this time. However, many of these efforts are viewed as disingenuous, and some consumers have called out brands for trying to monetize the rainbow. And thus, Rainbow Washing was born. 

Credit: Nick Lachance/Xtra, Francesca Roh/Xtra

This article will provide you with everything you need to know on how to be LGBTQ-inclusive all year long and the signs to look out for to avoid rainbow washing marketing. 

Table of contents

What Is Rainbow Washing Marketing? 

Rainbow washing is defined as: “The act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to the advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks… to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility)—but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.” 

During Pride month, businesses tend to engage in rainbow washing marketing by changing their social media profiles into colorful hubs with bright, rainbow versions of their logo, product, or service. 

Their advertising and feeds may highlight members of the LGBTQ community with their product or service to give off the impression that their brand prioritizes DEI (diversity equality inclusion). 

Then, a new month rolls in, and everyone has moved on to the 4th of July celebrations or the next big thing.

Rainbow Washing vs. Pinkwashing

Rainbow washing is typically associated with corporations or businesses, while pinkwashing is connected to a country, state, province, or government. 

Both rainbow washing and pinkwashing are when a business or state supports the LGBTQ community to boost its own image.

More specifically, pinkwashing is when a state (or nation) engages in surface-level support for the LGBTQ+ community while making very few meaningful changes to support and enrich the community.

Most Common Examples of Rainbow Washing Marketing

We touched on a few ways to spot rainbow washing from the brands above, but here are some additional signs to look for: 

  • Use the rainbow to push products 
  • Have corporate groups marching in Pride parades 
  • Changes logos to rainbow on social media temporarily
  • Foster an unsafe workplace for queer staff
  • Doesn’t donate to LGBTQ+ causes
  • Participates in Pride month marketing while contributing to anti-LGBTQ organizations or public figures

Your brand may be contributing to rainbow washing without realizing it, so understanding what to look out for is key to recognizing this in your own marketing and changing it.

Why Is Rainbow Washing Bad in Marketing?

Rainbow washing can be damaging because it misleads well-intentioned people into thinking they’re supporting a brand that advocates for the LGBTQ community, when sometimes that may not be the case.

There are numerous brands that have jumped on the bandwagon for Pride month, then turned around and supported political candidates who oppose LGBTQ equality. 

Rainbow washing marketing strategies allow businesses that don’t do any real work to support the LGBTQ communities during the year to change their logo to a rainbow in June and call it allyship.

This is why brands must distinguish their values and align themselves with causes to drive action. Brands have tried to stay neutral on social and political issues, but consumers are holding them accountable.

At the forefront, Pride month should be focused on amplifying queer voices and raising awareness for LGBTQ+ issues. An LGBTQ-inclusive marketing strategy involves more than diverse images and rainbow-themed content. 

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How To Ensure Your Business Does Not Have Rainbow Washing Marketing?

How can brands be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community in a way that’s meaningful and not merely performative? Here are 4 ways to get started:

1. Take a Stance on LGBTQ+ Discrimination

Eliminating rainbow washing marketing to support an LGBTQ-inclusive strategy starts from the top down. The business as a whole needs to be aligned with fully supporting the LGBTQ community. This starts by adopting a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, whether from customers, employees, or stakeholders.

If you truly support diversity, equality, and inclusion, then it should be simple for your business to implement. Employees who discriminate and don’t reflect the brand’s values should be penalized (or let go). And there should be a zero-tolerance for abusive or discriminatory customers.

2. Create an Inclusive Environment for Employees and Customers

A diverse and inclusive work culture can allow your business to create a forward-thinking environment that represents all people in your target audience.

This first requires you to look at your workplace and evaluate if you’re giving equal opportunities to all backgrounds. Although you may feel your workplace is fine, it’s worth taking it further and partnering with a DEI consultant outside your company. 

A DEI consultant can review your current practices and workplace environments to look for signals that portray noninclusive language and culture. 

3. Educate Yourself and Others

A hands-off approach to supporting the LGBTQ community fosters rainbow washing marketing. Genuine support requires a level of understanding and participation to craft an LGBTQ-inclusive strategy. 

It’s nice to say your company is LGBTQ-friendly, but if you don’t fully understand why this community needs your support, then how LGBTQ-friendly are you?

Sometimes we as people can be ignorant of issues that don’t directly affect us or understand the depth of these problems at hand. To ensure this is not the case for your business, there are numerous ways you can educate yourself and other employees:

  • Take a DEI course online.
  • Read content on topics about the LGBTQ community.
  • Follow LGBTQ accounts on your social media.
  • Attend LGBTQ events or rallies.

Brands can also partner with a top-rated LGBTQ-owned marketing agency like COMMANDO, to develop a more inclusive marketing strategy.

4. Use Your Voice and Platform to Support The LGBTQ+ Community

As a marketer, you have access to a business that holds a position of influence on a large audience. A brand’s core values can help establish and build a business that prioritizes diversity, equality, and inclusivity. 

Sometimes all people need is a chance to hear a different perspective or a platform to share their experiences. Pass the mic to someone in the LGBTQ community to amplify their voices and be a supportive ally. 

Storytelling is huge in marketing and allows businesses to develop a deeper connection with their audience. It’s an essential human experience that unites all people and drives stronger deeper connections. 

Final Thoughts

There is no official blueprint for avoiding rainbow washing marketing and being a more LGBTQ inclusive business. Face the facts that you most likely are going to unintentionally make some mistakes along the way.

Be open to receiving feedback so that your business can be a better ally and support the LGBTQ community in a way that’s going to make a real impact.

About the Author

Head of Marketing @ Vista Social

Brittany Garlin serves as the Head of Marketing at Vista Social, the leading social media suite that's pushing the boundaries of innovation. Steering the platform to achieve an impressive milestone of over 2 million connected social profiles, Brittany's expertise has been acknowledged in a recent appearance on the Social Pros podcast, where she discussed making marketing to marketers more human-centered. With a knack for strategic disruption, Brittany also redefines what it means to be a woman in the tech sector. Her thought leadership is frequently highlighted in prestigious outlets like Forbes and HubSpot.

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