The first time I saw myself represented in the media was a big deal for me. There’s a scene in the Emmy-winning Schitt’s Creek where David Rose, the main character, describes his sexuality with a comparison to choosing wine. As a member of the queer community, I noticed the specificity and care put into this moment. Another specific memory is that of a Subaru commercial casually depicting a same-sex female couple without comment.

Representation for the LGBTQ+ community in corporate marketing is generally abysmal—but it doesn’t have to be. The two key things that aren’t happening? Listening and specificity. Here’s what you need to know about building an inclusive marketing campaign for the LGBTQ+ community.

How to avoid rainbow washing during pride month marketing

Is marketing specifically to the LGBTQ+ community important? 

Now this depends—are you interested in over $3.7 trillion dollars in spending power globally? When we talk about speaking to underserved markets, the LGBTQ+ community should be top of the list. If you’re interested in Gen Z or Millennials, you should be paying even closer attention. Twenty percent of Millenials and 31% of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+. That’s almost one-in-three TikTok sensations you’re leaving out. Just kidding—kind of.

Beyond the market value, there’s the fact that two-thirds of LGBTQ+ folks don’t see themselves represented in advertising.

What is pinkwashing? 

Simply put, pinkwashing is “using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organization, country or government.” This includes things like contributing to anti-gay politicians or causes while putting on LGBTQ+ job fairs or sponsoring Pride events.

What is rainbow washing? 

Rainbow washing refers to the appropriation and commoditization of the queer community for profit—generally, exclusively during June. This is often noticed by folks from the community, but embraced by allies, which begs the question: who are these campaigns truly for? Those rainbow toothpaste, ally t-shirts, and rainbow alcohol (a whole other can of worms) often do not directly support any LGBTQ+ causes. Forty-six percent of corporate Pride marketing campaigns do not donate any profits to LGBTQ+ organizations, despite making millions in June. 

Celebrating vs. Capitalizing

So, you’re a marketing manager and you want to do a campaign to support the LGBTQ+ community. Here’s what you should keep in mind: 

  • Why am I doing this? 
  • Who am I doing this for? 
  • How is this serving the community I’m doing this for? 

These questions can help you start to suss out which marketing initiatives should be happening in June versus year-round. It can also help you identify when it’s time to bring in a consultant or focus group. Understanding what the LGBTQ+ community is looking for should not be different than your usual market research. 

A rainbow is a signal, but it’s not the only way to connect with your potential LGBTQ+ customers. Give them the same time and attention you do the rest of your audience research, and recognize the different needs for those from different parts of the queer community. Gay men, for instance, don’t need the same services from a healthcare brand as trans women. Be specific, kind, and avoid co-opting.

How to Avoid Rainbow or Pinkwashing this Pride Month

As with any marketing campaign, the importance of putting your audience first is paramount. Here are seven things we recommend keeping in mind as you develop your campaigns:

  1. Put the same time and resources toward LGBTQ+ marketing initiatives as you would the rest of your campaigns.
  2. Create content with the LGBTQ+ community in mind.
  3. Recognize that the LGBTQ+ community is more than one audience or persona.
  4. Have representation in the room.
  5. Connect it to your company values.
  6. Donate to causes that matter to the LGBTQ+ community.
  7. Don’t limit your activities and support to Pride month.