Cyabra

It’s Not About The Flag: Brands Attacked For Rainbow Washing

If you live in any major western city during June, aka Pride Month, you’re probably well accustomed to the mass of rainbow flags flapping in the wind on every window, balcony or storefront. In the current climate, it’s considered good marketing for companies to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s common for brands to give their logo the rainbow-makeover without a second thought. But what happens when consumers realize that those very same brands actually fund and support anti-LGTBQ politicians? 

Brands That Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Rainbows Around 

This common practice of exploiting the rainbow flag by putting on a facade of inclusivity is called Rainbow Washing (or occasionally Pinkwashing and Rainbow Capitalism): The act of using or adding rainbow colors to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, etc, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility) – but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.

As public awareness grows, brands that take part in Rainbow Washing are quickly faced with a new reality: their consumers, whether they’re LGBTQ+ or allies, are holding them accountable for their actions. Changing a brand’s logo and taking some photos of the team waving rainbow flags can put a spotlight on the brand’s actions. Present-day consumers require authenticity, and in Pride Month, this means support, not empty words. One could say that in today’s age of information, any major brand is actually living in a glass house. Every word said and every action taken are constantly held up to scrutiny under the watchful eye of the public. Customers don’t need to be social activists to easily uncover any dark secrets hidden behind a rainbow logo.  

Using the Cyabra platform, our analysts detected an interesting trend while studying some of the biggest brands that have posted pro-LGBTQ+ messages on their social media. Wary consumers quickly came up with evidence revealing that some of those companies have actually donated a sum of over $10 million to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and organizations. The irony of plastering the pride flag on those brands did not go unnoticed by social media. Deloitte, AT&T, Walmart, FedEx, Charter and many others were subjected to mocking responses and retweets calling them out for hypocrisy. 

Visibility Vs. Authenticity

Mark this in your calendar, brands: 2022 is the start of a new era, an era in which we all have to think and plan every word written on social media, because your audience will hold you accountable for your actions. Ten years ago, every brand that gave visibility to the rainbow flag during Pride Month was celebrated. Nowadays, visibility is a habit, and the name of the game is authenticity. Rainbow Washing brands whose message was perceived as inauthentic were met with a large, passionate, and very authentic wave of consumer rage. 

AT&T

Sharing their VP’s emotional coming out story, AT&T never expected to be called out and threatened with a boycott, especially not from a pro-LGBTQ+ audience. Their tweet reached no less 782,000 profiles, engaged by 391 profiles. 96% of this engagement (likes, comments and shares) was negative, exposing more and more consumers to AT&T’s support of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians. 

Deloitte

Deloitte wasn’t one of those brands plastering on a rainbow-colored logo and a “love is love” post: the company actually put many work hours and money into an inclusivity survey for Pride Month, interviewing no less than 600 LGBTQ+ employees (none of them Deloitte employees) about their everyday life at work. The impressive survey quickly started trending, but not anything like Deloitte dreamed it would: Deloitte’s Tweets spread to 532,000 profiles on Twitter, and were engaged by 266 profiles. But here’s the real shocker: 92% of those retweets, replies and posts concerning Deloitte showed a negative sentiment, pointing out the irony of creating a pro-LGBTQ+ survey while supporting anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and organizations. 

Walmart

Unlike Deloitte and AT&T, Wallmart’s social account didn’t feature any emotional stories or well-thought surveys – only a cute puppy dressed for Pride. However, having donated 1M$ to anti-gay politicians, even the adorable rainbow-wrapped pup couldn’t save Wallmart from the raging social media. The tweet spread to 580,000 profiles and was engaged by 290 profiles. 89% of this engagement was negative, proving that brands can be called out for Rainbow Washing whether they (allegedly) try to make a difference, or just selling some colorful pet accessories. 

The Unflattering Colors of the Rainbow 

Deloitte, AT&T and Walmart weren’t the only brands to find themselves in the heart of a Rainbow Washing storm: 

  • When Fedex tweeted their support, 120 profiles showed an engagement that was 96% negative, bashing Fedex for their donations to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and organizations. 
  • Charter and Comcast, both offering LGBTQ+ content on their services for Pride Month, experienced a similar fate: 
    • 288 profiles engaged with Charter’s tweet, with 277 comments and quotes – 92% of them negative. 
    • Comast had 173 profiles engaged with their tweets, 82% of them are negative. 
  • The Home Depot, that tweeted a greeting for Pride Month, was engaged by 215 profiles, We found 96 comments and quotes on their tweets – 94% of them are negative. Home Depot tweets spread to 430,000 profiles on Twitter. 

As 2022 Pride Month is nearing its end, perhaps it’s time for brands to realize that they can’t play both fields: if they wish to carry the pride flag, they need to be worthy of it. Their new consumers are active, observant and alert, and they demand honesty and authenticity. Consumer hate might not be able to stop Rainbow Washing, but it’s more than willing to give brands hell for it. 

 

Want to read the full report written by Cyabra’s analysts? Contact us to receive it, free of charge!

Cyabra’s report is based on Twitter data collected between June 1 and June 22.

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