It’s June 2019 and the world is a blur of rainbows to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of LGBTQIA+ liberation. As celebrations are being planned, you might have noticed that some of your favourite brands are flying the rainbow (as they do every June during Pride Month):
Excited to reveal we are now proud sponsors of Pride in London! We are working closely with them and our charity partners to celebrate the diversity within the LGBT+ community and Fly the Flag for everyone at the #PrideJubilee— Budweiser UK (@BudweiserUK) May 31, 2019
A taste of what’s to come… pic.twitter.com/g1FYlXqJJk
Budweiser has created ‘Fly the Flag’, a series of cups in the colours of bisexual, pansexual, trans, intersex, non-binary, genderfluid, lipstick lesbians and asexual flags.
Then there’s are many shoes. For exampleike has partnered with the Gilber Baker Estate to create rainbow designs, and Converse has created a plethora of artistry and joined forces with a number of global partners including the It Gets Better Project .
Over the years we’ve also seen rainbow fries, rainbow gin, and multiple companies changing their logos to rainbow colours:
Is is Pride or just Rainbow Washing?
LGBT people: “it’d be nice if people could stop abusing us when we hold hands in public, we could teach LGBT lessons in schools and if the BBC could stop debating our existence on live air that’d be grea-— Louis Staples (@LouisStaples) May 3, 2019
Capitalism: “what we’re really sensing here is you want your own sandwich” pic.twitter.com/uIixEel2pq
M&S launched a limited edition LGBT sandwich for Pride season, taking a classic BLT, adding guacamole, and moving around the letters: BLT, plus G, equals LGBT. It’s been criticised by a number of people, calling it another example of rainbow washing where rainbow branding bring likes, clicks and plenty of spending. Rainbow washing as a concept has its origins in the breast cancer pink ribbon movement (where it was found little of the money generated through pink ribbon branded products went to improve the lives of those with breast cancer.) It’s based on the notion that rainbows are added to logos and campaigns for a company to score brownies points without doing anything to create real structural change.
However, few mention that M&S is donating £20,000 to akt, the national LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness charity and €1000 to BeLonG To Youth Services for LGBTI+ young people in Ireland. The charities were chosen by people in the LGBTQ+ network at M&S. Further, M&S has had no hestiation calling out bigotry – One criticiser was robustly pwned on social media by M&S customer service.
Budweiser is not only selling cups but is also hosting several Pride events, including a three-day asexual event. The brand is partnering with asexual activist and model Yasmin Benoit to bring visibility to this part of the community. According to their press release:
“Fly The Flag is centred around giving each community within the Pride family their chance to shine by raising awareness for each group. Pride being a huge event with a large number of commercial sponsors, the meaning of the event is sometimes lost. We are wanting to change this and shine a light on each community and celebrate them on the day of the parade with all those who attend.“
YouTube is arguably the biggest offender when it comes to rainbow washing. As Matt Werner notes “All rainbow icons and positive tweets while they refuse to enforce their own rules against harassment and allowing far right/homophobic/racist/transphobic content to flood their site.”
Where is DOOH in all of This?
What’s been absent in this mighty display of colours is the eye-catching, can’t look away, use of outdoor advertising to raise awareness, inspire reflection, and stimulate discussion. This could have been a real opportunity for DOOH providers to work with brands and charities to develop creative campaigns and give back to the community. Instead, the offerings seem a little thin on the ground.
Further, while many companies are working to establish themselves as Pride allies, there are still plenty of companies DOOH ad companies profiting from hate. Anti-LBGT billboards still feature across the US seemingly legal under free speech legislation. At time when all manner of companies internationally are trying to position themselves as Queer allies, do they really need to fund such campaigns of hate? Adtech is innovative, progressive, and creative and such campaigns hold us back as a sector.
Fortunately things are improving. Last November a No Gays billboard was used in Times Square Tas part of a campaign that aims to draw attention to the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, which has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In China, billboards embedded with QR codes have been used to call out gay conversion therapy, and Transport for London has been using digital ads, and station branding over the last few years to demonstrate LGBT pride:
At HYGH we believe there is no place for bigotry and hate. We believe in leading by example and thus, all campaigns in our advertising network must comply with the standards of our community – We do not support advertising that contains discriminatory, harmful or prejudicial contenbt related to gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability.