Five ways brands can move beyond rainbow-washing

The founder of creative agency RanaVerse tells brands to stop rainbow-washing when it comes to Pride, and instead commit to helping make meaningful change.

Part of the reason I wanted to move from London to New York was to gain a better understanding of the way that purpose intersects with fame and culture. Many of the human rights shifts and the language used in relation to them originate in the US and become global lexicon, particularly in English speaking countries – think #MeToo or #BLM. Experiencing these shifts so closely has allowed me to adapt my own style of brand work.

The Black Lives Matter movement for social justice is having a profound effect in the US on the way that brands integrate human rights /purpose/equity into their work and what consumers expect; more nuances have opened up and corporations have had to come off the fence. 

I’m under no illusion that part of this is simple economics – it's good for business to be kind. Also, with 50% of Gen Z being non-white and 16 of the top 20 cities in the US having a non-white majority with the spending power equivalent to the GDP of Germany, there is a lot more fluidity around gender and sexual orientation that is seeing these shifts change not only the game but also the whole playing field.

My recent work with my client Unilever UK and its retail partner Superdrug has filled me with happiness and how open they have been to my approach. But generally I am irritated by how traditional the UK market still is when it comes to Pride and its views on where the LGBT+ movement is heading. Here are five issues and solutions to move the conversation forward.

Pride is for queer people by queer people with queer people

Pride isn’t about straight sign-off/assimilation or an opportunity for the girls in the marketing team to wear rainbow glitter and get trashed on a float. Explore your process of campaign strategy and content creation and make sure you have solid queer equity throughout. 

Pride is not a celebration unless you are LGBT+

For brands, Pride is about tackling the rise in hate crime, suicide, homelessness and transphobia that is rife throughout the UK. Develop meaningful and measurable actions that your brand or company can get behind that speaks to specific barriers and issues facing LGBT+ people. Don't just hide behind a cheque. Instead work harder to identify organisations to support that aren’t the few well-funded, easy to reach ones.

Don’t hide behind rainbow flags and performative statements like “love is love”

Firstly, the rainbow flag had been updated to include people of colour and trans and gender non-conforming communities and, in addition to that, the rainbow allows brands to create generic work that doesn’t showcase queer people. Instead of making us palatable to straight consumers by hiding behind rainbow flags, don’t hedge your bets and celebrate Pride if you’re going to rainbow-wash, as it becomes apparent that you’re not really proud.

There’s more to the community than muscly, white, cisgender men from London

Everything is about intersections. Understand intersections in relationship to Pride and don’t just focus on London, Manchester and Brighton. Make sure that the team you have working on Pride are representative of the community at large. There is a wealth of stories to be told that intersects with race, age and geography and if your agency can’t deliver this understanding, hire in or get them to hire in.

Don’t just box us into Pride

Allyship is a 365-day, 24/7 undertaking. If you really believe in equality, understand that queer people thrive and live all year round. We are mothers and fathers, we celebrate Valentines, Christmas and everything in between. We exist in Black History Month and Women’s Day of visibility. We are also attacked and marginalised all year round.  

Rana Reeves is the founder of creative agency Ranaverse, which created Unilever's recent campaign "United we stand"


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