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PINKWASHING
 

Pinkwashing: Marketing the Rainbow

Power of the Queer Dollar

Experian: Marketing to LGBTQ Consumers

Corporate Sponsorship of Gay Pride Events on the Rise

Has LGBTQ Pride Gotten Over Commercialized?

Rise of Pride Marketing and the Curse of Pinkwashing

LGBTQ Marketing and Advertising

Rainbow Capitalism and Pink Marketing

 

 

How Businesses Are Standing Up for LGBTQ Rights

Forbes: Proud of Pride vs. Rainbow Washing

Why LGBTQ Inclusive Advertising is Important

Nielson: LGBTQ Consumer Report

Info: Business and the LGBTQ Marketplace

Companies That Support LGBTQ Rights

Target: LGBTQ Pride Merchandise

Businesses That Stand Up for LGBTQ Customers

Logo: Top 25 LGBTQ Friendly Companies

Companies That Do Not Support LGBTQ Rights

Info: LGBTQ Friendly Companies and Organizations

How to Avoid Pinkwashing

Nielson: State of the LGBTQ Consumer

Marketing the Rainbow


Defining Pinkwashing

 

“Just because a company slapped on a rainbow doesn’t mean they support the LGBTQ community.”

-Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

 

“As a gay man that came out in the ‘90’s, to be honest, I have to say that I’m in two minds about this show of support. On one hand it’s amazing that so many organizations are literally showing their pride in pride and it’s great that there is so much visibility. However, I rather cynically question whether many are tokenistically searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
-Ed Watson

 

Pickwashing is the the promotion of the gay-friendliness of a corporate or political entity in an attempt to downplay or soften aspects of it considered negative. It is a term used to describe the action of using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organization, country or government. In the context of LGBTQ rights, it is used to describe a variety of marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities through an appeal to gay-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant.

 

The term "pinkwashing" as a questionable marketing tactic was first applied to the breast cancer awareness campaign.  In what seemed like an effort by every corporation to get on the bandwagon, everything from football helmets and t-shirts to police badges and dump trucks to billboards and oil rigs were painted pink in a show of solidarity and support for a good cause. Noble intentions notwithstanding, the practice encountered some criticism that companies might have been trying to exploit the breast cancer awareness cause for their own economic gain.

 

When the same dubious strategies started being used with regard to the LGBTQ cause, the term "pinkwashing" was once again used.  To differentiate, some observers and writers use the term "rainbow washing" or "rainbow marketing" or "rainbow capitalism."

 



Examples

--A campaign to develop public support for the Keystone Pipeline, which would transport Canadian oil through the United States, has been accused of pinkwashing for its argument that the project deserves support based on a comparison of Canada's record on LGBTQ rights compared to that of other oil-producing nations. The campaign base at OpecHatesgays.com headlines its presentation: "Compare Canadian Ethical Oil to OPEC conflict oil".

--In 2014, BP launched "LGBTQ Careers Event", a move that was met with criticism as an attempt to pinkwash the conduct that led to Deepwater Horizon oil spill, described as "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced".

--In Australia, concern has been raised about the commodification of gay rights by major corporations.

--In 2019, several companies who had previously claimed to support the LGBTQ community (including Marriott International, Delta Air Lines, UnitedHealth Group, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America) were criticized for their sponsorship of an event honoring Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who self-identifies as "homophobic" and "very proud of it".  According to NBC News, Bolsonaro was being honored "for his prioritizing of Christian values and family."  Some sponsors withdrew after criticism, including Bain & Co., the Financial Times, and Delta.
 

 

Pinkwashing: What Does it Mean?

One thing that must be understood is that, on the whole, the LGBTQ community is far more cognizant of various social and political issues than the average population. This is on account not of any inherent intellectualism or erudition, but is rather the result of their own position; simply by being openly who they are, in the eyes of society, LGBTQ people are in and of themselves social and political statements. The majority of LGBTQ people are people who are often disempowered in other ways, whether by sex, race or class, and to many it is critical to understand the ways in which these various oppressions intersect and co-mingle. Therefore, when a group, a company, or a government attempt to appeal to the LGBTQ community, despite having committed other wrongs in other fields, it is often seen as an attempt to use the LGBTQ community to wash away previous wrongdoings.

 

This phenomenon, by and large introduced to the public by a New York Times article on Israel’s use of it, is called Pinkwashing. For while there is nothing wrong with appealing to the LGBTQ community or emphasizing inclusivity in business, using LGBTQ-specific issues to downplay otherwise negative aspects of one’s business is never a winning strategy.

 



Origins of Pinkwashing?

Let’s look at the infamous Israeli example. Brand Israel, the government sponsored marketing group, attempting to reach out to international tourists and audiences, uses LGBTQ rights as an indicator of modernity, as a reason that they should be supported and valued over their “homophobic” neighboring countries. This is a political strategy that has also been replicated by the far-right in Europe and elsewhere, who position immigrants from other countries as being inherently homophobic and inimical to LGBTQ rights. Besides being racist, these sweeping generalizations ignore the fact that the LGBTQ community does not only exist in so called “enlightened” places, but exists in all countries, within all communities. To insist that Muslim immigrants and countries are all homophobic, for example, is a blanket statement that simultaneously paints the entire faith with a single brush and erases the existence of countless LGBTQ Muslims throughout the world.

Some of these issues may seem someone distant to those of us in America, who are as affected by the political and economic currents previously described. But pinkwashing is still a significant reality, especially among businesses who tend to view the LGBTQ community as a bunch of walking dollar bills.

 



What constitutes Pinkwashing?

Defining what is and what isn’t pinkwashing can be difficult. On one hand, it’s no good for companies to use LGBTQ issues as a smokescreen for other realities, but on the other, emphasizing inclusivity and equality is never a bad thing! But when the LGBTQ community becomes a shield, so to speak, for a company to continue engaging in more nefarious practices, pinkwashing occurs.
 

How can a company avoid Pinkwashing?
 

At the core of the pinkwashing phenomenon is something all LGBTQ-friendly companies must recognize: dishonesty. When people feel as if they, their lives and the issues important to them, are being exploited as a quick means to get a buck, they’ll feel used, unvalued, expendable. This is especially salient when the LGBTQ community is not only exploited, but used as a means of smokescreening other important issues. To avoid being accused of pinkwashing, just use a simple strategy; don’t pinkwash. Pursue equality, transparency, and accountability in your business practices, and remember that injustices done to any group or community aren’t something the LGBTQ community is like to soon forget. Support for the LGBTQ community is not conditional, and nobody is obligated to patronize a business that doesn’t seem or feel trustworthy. Openness and fairness are the easiest ways to ensure a better business solution for all!

[Source: Patrick Carland]

 

Pinkwashing: Marketing the Rainbow

Power of the Queer Dollar

Rainbow Capitalism and Pink Marketing

Experian: Marketing to LGBTQ Consumers

Marketing the Rainbow

Info: LGBTQ Friendly Companies and Organizations

Nielson: LGBTQ Consumer Report

Corporate Sponsorship of Gay Pride Events on the Rise

Forbes: Proud of Pride vs. Rainbow Washing

Companies That Support LGBTQ Rights

Queer Pride and Rainbow Capitalism

Why LGBTQ Inclusive Advertising is Important

Has LGBTQ Pride Gotten Over Commercialized?

Rise of Pride Marketing and the Curse of Pinkwashing

How Businesses Are Standing Up for LGBTQ Rights

Companies That Do Not Support LGBTQ Rights

Target: LGBTQ Pride Merchandise

Info: Business and the LGBTQ Marketplace

Nielson: State of the LGBTQ Consumer

Logo: Top 25 LGBTQ Friendly Companies

 

 

Pride Marketing and Pinkwashing

Each year, as gay pride season comes to a close, here are some questions: Have you withdrawn money from a multi-colored gay ATM this summer? Have you poured vodka from a rainbow-colored bottle? Have you eaten a Burger King Pride Whopper in a rainbow wrapper? And if you have, are you aware that it might just be the latest stage in an awkward history of corporate “pink washing”?

Celebrating LGBTQ rights is a fashionable topic in marketing land. Long gone are the days where marketers may have only coyly targeted the LGBTQ community. In today’s marketing, at least for some, even queer products for a straight audience have become mainstream – used to sell anything from fast food to credit cards, clothing to eReaders – but it’s not clear whether this is a real “win win” for the market and the LGBTQ community.

It remains notoriously difficult to define who makes up the “LGBTQ community”, and particularly what identifying as LGBTQ means in terms of lifestyle, political goals and choice of partners or a mix of all of the above. It is, nevertheless, fairly simple to establish that the relationship between the “community” and “mainstream marketers” has not always been an easy one.

 



Rise of the pink dollar
 

Although the world’s first gay magazine, Der Eigene, was published in Germany in 1892, it wasn’t until the late 1950s and beyond that more prominent gay media began to emerge as laws outlawing homosexual activities were softened. However, in the early days, advertising in LGBTQ media was largely restricted to LGBTQ organizations, and LGBTQ-owned businesses directly targeting the community.

Political analysis, without partisanship

Maybe because of the political (and sometimes sexual nature) of many publications, major advertisers were cautious to advertise in the gay press. Even widely discussed (and criticized) survey data kick started a narrative of the “pink dollar” and an affluent and untapped marketing demographic failed to spark a rush. The emergence of AIDS in the 1980s helped to rein in commercial attitudes towards the LGBTQ community and it wasn’t until the second half of the decade that the first few mainstream brands (Absolut Vodka’s campaign in The Advocate, for example) started cautiously appearing in gay magazines alongside the community organizations and businesses.

It was the 1990s which saw a genuine turnaround. Advertisers openly hailed the “Dream Market” of urban, well-educated, double-income gay and lesbian couples. Yet, there was still a palpable fear of broader public attitudes towards LGBTQ issues, with few advertisers trying to openly depict LGBTQ storylines in their advertising directed at mainstream customers.

Instead, advertisers relied on targeting LGBTQ-identifying individuals through increasingly sophisticated media channels aimed at the community, such as radio stations, television channels, and an increasing variety of glossy lifestyle magazines, each one educating their gay audiences where to spend their, supposedly, high disposable income in terms of fashion, travel, art and fine cuisine.

 



It’s complicated


Not everyone welcomed the newly found love affair between big business and small community, and the effect of “selling out” the LGBTQ political agenda. From the start, there have been concerns about the portrayals of LGBTQ individuals in marketing. For instance, research by Katherine Sender has highlighted the fact that marketers continue to avoid targeting or portraying lesbians. While Ellen and The L Word have somewhat softened the stereotype, Sender found that many advertisers still see lesbians as “neither fish nor fowl”. Other forms of sexual identities, including bisexuality and transsexual identities are virtually absent from any form of commercial representation.

Scholars have also warned that increased LGBTQ visibility compromises the original social justice agenda of the LGBTQ movement. In Alexandra Chasin’s research, “going to the market” means abandoning the effort to challenge inequalities in society. Instead there is an acceptance of normalization and depoliticization as a consequence of greater economic relevance – at least for those select few that have been chosen as targets for advertisers.

There is certainly ample evidence of “normalizing” depictions of LGBTQ identities by mainstream advertisers when depicting LGBTQ lifestyles – something that scholars refer to as “homonormativity”. It is a concept complementary to heteronormativity, the assumption that all individuals fall into two complementary categories as males and females and that they behave in accordance with their gendered “norms”.

Homonormativity is the assimilation of these norms into the LGBTQ culture and identity: in other words, it is the assumption that gay couples are just like every one else. As Lisa Duggan has pointed out: "Homonormativity does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption."

 



Becoming bolder


Following successes by targeting the LGBTQ market directly, some marketers also made bold steps out of the ghetto – and started to use gay themes in advertising targeted mostly at a non-gay audience. A first came in 1994. Playing on the stereotype of the worldly, urban gay male couple, equipped with a superior sense of style and fashion, IKEA showcased a same-sex couple choosing furniture at the store. The advert was widely celebrated by gay groups, with only fringe voices raising concerns about the stereotypical depiction of the gay characters.

Other organizations followed: controversially, in 2005, Israel started to promote itself as a gay-friendly tourist destination. The campaign was designed to portray Israel as a progressive country – against a backdrop of violence and regressive policies of other governments in the region. The campaign was widely criticized as “pinkwashing”, with critics arguing the campaign was intended to offer up a “relevant and modern” alternative to the controversy and anger over the treatment of Palestinians.

Open LGBTQ depictions in mainstream marketing were still relatively exceptional, until recently. Taking a lead from the popularity of “LGBT inclusive” television programs such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, big marketers have come out of the closet: From Amazon to JC Penney in the US (not to forget Barclays Bank in the UK) all have seemingly thrown their corporate weight behind the LGBTQ movement.

 



However, just as was the case with Israel, you can’t shake the feeling that these companies are glad for the distraction from their own controversies. Barclays has been the most complained about bank in the UK for a few years running now. JC Penney’s same-sex mothers and fathers advertising came just after the company announced large-scale redundancies. And Amazon faces a host of criticism ranging from poor working conditions and tax avoidance to treatment of smaller publishers.

Their association with the LGBTQ equality message might genuinely reflect a desire to distance themselves from past controversies – and to become more inclusive and open. But the suspicion will be that they are indulging in a bit of low-cost “pink washing” to soften the edges of some spiky reputational damage. Companies need to do more than just depict a gay guy, or a lesbian couple, or adorn their products with the rainbow flag – especially when faced with increasingly knowledgeable, and cynical, consumers who hopefully can see through a touch of pink sparkle.

[Source: Joel Abrams, Manager of Outreach, The Conversation, 2014]

 

How Businesses Are Standing Up for LGBTQ Rights

Nielson: LGBTQ Consumer Report

Info: Business and the LGBTQ Marketplace

Marketing Strategy: Waving the Rainbow Flag

Companies That Support LGBTQ Rights

Target: LGBTQ Pride Merchandise

Businesses That Stand Up for LGBTQ Customers

Logo: Top 25 LGBTQ Friendly Companies

Companies That Do Not Support LGBTQ Rights

Info: LGBTQ Friendly Companies and Organizations

Nielson: State of the LGBTQ Consumer

 

Queerbaiting

 

Like "pinkwashing," the practice of "queerbaiting" is an exploitive tactic.

 

Queerbaiting is a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then do not actually depict, same-sex romance or other LGBTQ representation. They do so to attract ("bait") a queer or straight ally audience with the suggestion of relationships or characters that appeal to them, while at the same time attempting to avoid alienating other consumers.

Queerbaiting has often been observed in popular fiction such as films and television series, but also has been observed among celebrities who convey an ambiguous sexual identity through their works and statements. It arose in and has been popularized through discussions in Internet fandom since the early 2010s.

Queer fans have reacted with concern and anger to an identity they consider defining being used as a mere marketing ploy, a plaything for creatives, a mark of "edginess", or a commodity.

Fans have derided, for instance, queer characters being used as plot devices rather than as characters for their own sake. For instance, Glee, a series with many queer series regulars, was criticized by fans for presenting "superficial stereotypes of queerness for dramatic effect".

Queer fans consider queerbaiting as "a way to throw us a bone when we normally wouldn't have anything, to acknowledge that we're there in the audience when the powers that be would prefer to ignore us".  Emmet Scout wrote that "queerbaiting works on its audience because it offers the suggestion that queer people do have a vital place in these stories, that they might even be the defining figures, the heroes. The suggestion—but not the reality."  Rose Bridges summarized the practice's effect on queer fans as receiving "just enough representation to keep us interested, but not enough to satisfy us and make us truly represented."

 

Power of the Queer Dollar

Rainbow Capitalism and Pink Marketing

Forbes: Proud of Pride vs. Rainbow Washing

Corporate Sponsorship of Gay Pride Events on the Rise

Has LGBTQ Pride Gotten Over Commercialized?

Info: LGBTQ Friendly Companies and Organizations

Marketing the Rainbow

Why LGBTQ Inclusive Advertising is Important

Queer Pride and Rainbow Capitalism

Businesses That Stand Up for LGBTQ Customers

LGBTQ Marketing and Advertising

Rise of Pride Marketing and the Curse of Pinkwashing

Logo: Top 25 LGBTQ Friendly Companies

How to Avoid Pinkwashing

 

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