June is a busy and busy time for major brands. The time of the rainbow attack, when the colors of the logos of brands, products and social media change as a sign of support. Known as Pride Month, it commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising led by trans people of color against police brutality in New York City.
The first Pride Parade took place in 1970 and since then, the annual festivities have grown brighter and bolder, with companies vying for advertising space on roads, papers and the Internet, in an effort to demonstrate inclusivity. Today, the psychology of the consumer, especially the younger generation, is changing in such a way that brand ethic comes into play as well.
People want to associate with brands that have social and political values similar to theirs. While Pride Month recognizes the struggles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, brands trying to make money from their universality through marketing ploys without any tangible efforts to help the marginalized group is called rainbow capitalism.
Why is rainbow washing a problem
Also known as “pink capitalism” or “pinkwashing,” it’s a way for brands to take advantage of the buying power (pink dollar) of the LGBTQIA+ group. According to the 2019 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, same-sex couples earn more money annually than opposite-sex families. According to an estimate based on its purchasing power, this community would be the fifth largest economy in the world with a GDP of $3.7 trillion, if it were a country. The LGBTQIA+ community is going from strength to strength, and brands indifference to this would be considered social suicide.
Hashtags, map routes, T-shirts, sneakers, socks – literally everything you can imagine undergoes a “rainbow wash” in June. Several brands have come under fire for their “for-profit queer” initiatives and hypocrisy in the race to be recognized as an ally. Recently, Burger King (BK) Austria introduced a Pridewhopper giving customers a choice between two top or bottom buns. According to the brand, the similar donuts represent “love and equal rights.” Of course, the Allies don’t make the cut without the rainbow background and the “time to be proud” tagline either. Social media users criticized the brand for its “performance activism”.
Burger King Austria made a Pride burger either with two toppings or two bottoms…what the hell? pic.twitter.com/bSl3Cyiq9p
– Jarrett Wesselman (@JarettSays) June 3, 2022
In 2020, the Finland branch of the fast food chain showed its mascot Burger King accepting rival Ronald McDonald, emblazoned with the phrase “Love Conquers All”. However, the brand faced criticism earlier in July 2020 for blaming the death of a transgender employee at BK California on “hormone injections” rather than Covid19.
Despite choosing all the pride tools, some brands are contributing to the anti-LGBTQ spheres. For example, Adidas has a special Pride section on its website with rainbow merchandise, but they also sponsored the World Cup in Russia, an anti-LGBT country. US telecoms company AT&T announced in June a $1 million donation to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on preventing suicide among LGBT people. Although PAC donations of nearly $15 million by “progressive” companies, including AT&T and the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Dell, to anti-LGBT politicians such as Representative Jim Jordan, Representative Brian Papen and Senator Johnny Ernst, Steve Daines and Ted Cruz, according to Buzzfeed and the Zero for Zeros group. A study on the Reboot website found that only 64% of companies with a pride campaign donated money to LGBTQIA+ girlfriend causes and a third did not donate anything.
Last year, Kim Kardashian came under fire for marketing her mobile game alongside the pride flag. Recently, Elon Musk was trolled for mocking his annual social media campaigns targeting the LGBTQIA+ community with a meme, to which a Twitter user responded with photos of his Tesla brand celebrating Pride month.
What’s wrong with you all?! Can’t you say Happy Pride Month without selling anything?
– Tiff Hunter Biden 🇺🇸🇺🇦 🌻 (@TMahogany44) June 12, 2021
– Elvis The AlienTV (@ElvisTheAlienTV) May 31, 2022
Pride Month 2022 also saw a community takeover of the meme, calling for double standards for giant corporations trying to make big money by pretending to incorporate one month out of the year.
As a bisexual, I’m used to being invisible, ignorant, or outspoken to tell me that I don’t exist. So this Pride Month I decided to collaborate with Covid-19.
– Travon Free (@travonne) 6 June 2022
Even the cryptocurrency world cannot escape the rainbow rain. The LGBTQIA+ cryptocurrency Maricoin, which was launched in January 2022, has been met with online condemnation primarily because the name is a play on Spanish anti-gay slander. Another criticism leveled against “corporate pride” is that these companies evade showing their support for LGBTQIA+ in countries where it is not as widely accepted (and thus unprofitable) as the West. Examples include Facebook, which hides rainbow themes in anti-LGBTQIA+ countries, and Mercedes Benz, which has refrained from changing the colors of its social media profiles in Russia and the Middle East.
According to a BBC (Business: The Economy: The Pink Pound) report, “More than 90% of gay people support companies that target pink money, while boycotting anti-gay companies.” Nearly 70% of gays are positively affected by ads with LGBTQ codes, according to a 2017 MarketingMag report. Hence, companies are doing their best in pursuit of the pink pound. Many critics of rainbow capitalism feel that the commodification of pride is erasing the long history of struggle, now centered around consumerism, with corporate giants increasingly taking over the space for indigenous LGBTQIA allies.
To be clear, rainbow-themed campaigns are not a crime in themselves, but should translate into meaningful change in the form of inclusive workplace policies, non-discriminatory hiring for LGBT people, community outreach events, and more, along with year-round support for the community greatly oppressed. It forces us to reconsider the roots, true meaning and impact of Pride Month.
Before it rains in a rainbow parade
Rainbow stickers and “love is love” weren’t everywhere (like in the West now) 20-30 years ago. It is still not found in many parts of the world. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gay, bisexual, asexual and other members of society had a good fight (and are still fighting) for equal rights. In this context, when multinationals embrace the rainbow and wear pride on their sleeves, even if it is ostensible, they help a child or individual, in a traditional setting, feel visible when the giant flag is passed on the street. When the local store sells rainbow-colored merchandise and T-shirts that scream “Celebrate your pride,” it helps normalize it one step further for the older generation suspicious of gender identities and the younger generation still battling homophobia.
For a large majority, pride is not a privilege, it is the equivalent of protest. When conversion therapy is legal and homosexuality is a crime in many countries, representation matters. It is the key to recognizing and accepting one’s identity. Feeding the world with symbols of love, support and pride drives acceptance. When a parent struggles to accept their child’s LGBTQ+ chances at posters that print homosexuality, it helps realize that their child is not “abnormal.” In the countries of Asia and the Middle East, the month of pride is a legend, only rainbows light up in the sky, and the song “Love Wins” seems to be a far-fetched dream. Hence, critics of company pride may come from a position of privilege where pride is normalized.
The ‘Out, Loud and Proud’ campaigns thus help amplify awareness, ensure visibility, start conversations and spread hope for the section of the LGBTQ+ community still struggling to be recognized and seek basic rights.
Which leads us to the question, Where do we draw the line between allies and capitalism?
Read all the latest news, breaking news and live updates for IPL 2022 here.