Rainbow – Washing

General News | Nov-11-2023

Rainbow – Washing

The six-colored rainbows have become a synonym for Pride or the LGBTQ+ community and since the late 1970s have been omnipresent at LGBTQ+ parades and demonstrations. But in more recent years it has also become a feature in the commercial world of brand marketing, particularly during June.

The rainbow flag is one of the most visible and tangible representations of the LGBTQ+ community and June is celebrated around the globe as pride month, thus entails a lot of Pride-related marketing campaigns. At times, the products themselves may seem contrary to the ideological message.
The packaged goods and service industry has been hastily trying to retrofit LGBTQ+ language into their mission statements and embellish their products and messaging with the rainbow flag.

Both ends of the ideological spectrum had negative reactions to this. At one end there is growing consumer fatigue, disgruntlement, and backlash, and on the other end is a different type of pushback and criticism, embodied in the neologism “rainbow-washing.” This term – rainbow-washing - washing refers to the act of incorporating the rainbow symbol and imagery to signal support for the LGBT community and earn praise with a minimum of effort or practical result.

British chain Marks and Spencer (M&S) can be taken as an example. In May, they launched a new “LGBT” sandwich - a play on the classic BLT filled with lettuce, guacamole, bacon, and tomato (implying the LGBT acronym), along with rainbow-colored packaging. The promotion was not only mocked by the weary consumers on the onslaught of rainbow-adorned merchandise; it was criticized by LGBTQ+ consumers who complained of opportunism and profiteering.

Corporations are being called out for bad faith by the very people with whom they are seeking to associate themselves through their marketing. LGBTQ+ activists are insisting that companies enact LGBTQ+ ideology in its full effect. That includes having gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms in their stores and offices, LGBTQ+ safeguard policies and complaints procedures, usage of “correct” pronouns, HIV+ treatment assistance and support, and so on.

The message is loud and clear that only if the company is doing all of that, and everything else you can do to support the LGBTQ+ community, do they have the right to associate themselves with the movement. Before any organization goes all-in on the rainbows, they need to take active steps to create inclusive work environments and give back to the LGBTQ+ community they are trying to benefit from. This includes doing good market research, being sensitive to stereotypes, being consistent and confident, and more.

By: Deeksha Goyal