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Reflecting on Rainbow Capitalism: Looking Back on Failed Pride Campaigns

As we approach pride month, we should take a moment to reflect on some of the biggest flops for LGBTQIA+ support. Many companies and brands have shown support for the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month by releasing special editions of their products with rainbow-themed packaging or with new campaigns. This is done to express solidarity, promote inclusivity, and raise awareness about LGBTQ+ rights and equality.  Research has proven that younger consumers are more likely to shop from corporations who share similar values as them. Whether their efforts were sincere or purely profit driven, these campaigns received the most backlash and criticism. 


#5) Skittles’ lack of rainbow


Contrary to what most other large corporations, Skittles ditched the rainbow packaging in exchange for a strange and vague message. They went colorless in all of their packaging for June, promoting #OneRainbowMatters. The candies themselves were colorless and had a white, opaque appearance, lacking the usual vibrant hues associated with Skittles. However, they maintained the same fruit-flavored taste as regular Skittles. In the US, Skittles partnered with GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, to which they donated a portion of their profits. The goal of the campaign was to encourage conversations about LGBTQ+ visibility. Some were confused on how the lack of rainbow ties into the message, however, the ad wasn’t necessarily harmful in any way, just a bit confusing.



#4) Rainbow Packaged Vaseline


Unfortunately, Vaseline fell victim to the appeal of slapping a rainbow package on their product and calling it a day, and in this case, they were busted. Although they did team up with Switchboard, a charity offering support for people in the LGBTQ+ community, the ad fell flat in terms of authentic support. In fact, the rainbow tin was more expensive than the regular tin!

Vaseline Image


#3) Toronto’s rainbow garbage trucks


Toronto is known for hosting one of the largest pride festivals in the world and is widely recognized as a welcoming city for those in the LGBTQ+ community. However, their 2021 city-wide pride campaign fell flat, and was, to some, quite offensive. The city covered their garbage trucks in rainbow flags. Some members of the community thought that the city was, “equating them to trash.” Toronto was on the right track… but could have chosen something other than garbage trucks to promote equality.

Toronto Garbage Trucks


#3) Donald Trump Jr.’s redefining of ‘LGBTQ’


Donald Trump Jr. has an online merch website full of ultra-conservative messaging. Attempting to capitalize off of last year's pride month, Don released an item of clothing depicting ‘LGBTQ’ in rainbow letters as an acronym for, “Let’s Get Biden to Quit.” Nobody knows Don Jr.’s actual intentions, but from the looks of it, he almost made a mockery of pride advertising as a whole as he flipped the message of inclusivity and acceptance to a comedic, politically driven slogan. 


Jimmy Kimmel

In a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel also exposed Don Jr. 's brand for false claims. The website claims that the apparel is, “designed and printed in the USA!” However, Kimmel proves that the tags on the items show that they were made in other countries. Between the offensive co-opting of LGBTQ for pro-Trump advertising and the blatant hypocrisy of claims on Don Jr.’s website, this campaign was a massive flop.


#2) American Airlines and AT&T hypocrisy 


Both American Airlines and AT&T joined in on Pride in 2021 by adding a rainbow to their Twitter banner but critics were quick to expose their blatant hypocrisy. Representative Pramila Jayapal tweeted that American Airlines donated over $46k to Mitch McConnel’s campaign in 2020. 


Similarly, AT&T boasted about their inclusion with rainbow-clad social media accounts while simultaneously donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians who opposed the 2019 Equality Act that prohibited sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination. Additionally, AT&T contributes tens of thousands of dollars to Texas Representative, Bill Flores, who openly stands against gay marriage. These companies simply did not cover all their bases and thus lost the support of some of the LGBTQ+ community and allies.


#1) Burger King’s ‘Pride Whopper’


Last year, Burger King Austria released a new campaign and menu item for Pride, promoting ‘equal love and equal rights’ in the form of a ‘same-bun’ burger. The burger features all the same elements as a regular whopper but with the choice of either two top buns or two bottom buns. It seems they sought to give tribute to same-sex love, however, it wasn’t received positively because while some interpreted it as representing two girls or two boys, others thought it meant two tops and two bottoms. Critics took to Twitter to voice their discontent with the campaign. One user tweeted, “What a strange advertisement. I’ll take my Whopper with a regular bun because ordering fast food doesn’t need to be a political statement for me.” 

Pride Whopper

After the backlash, Burger King’s agency, Jung von Matt Donau, took to LinkedIn to issue an apology for the offensiveness of the ad, claiming they should have had more collaboration with, “community members on the different interpretations of the Pride Whopper.” Needless to say, the offensiveness and confusion about the ad’s meaning landed Burger King’s ‘Pride Whopper’ as the biggest pride campaign failure.


The Impact of Pride Advertisements


Aside from the flops and the failures, it is time for brands to take pride more seriously. 


According to LGBT Capital, 31 percent of the LGBTQ+ community feel that marketing portrays them poorly. This inclusivity isn’t just beneficial for those in the LGBTQ+ community but progressive ads are 47 percent more likely to be effective in both the long and the short term when it comes to campaign performance. Additionally, 71 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents and 82 percent of allies said they are more likely to buy from a company that supports LGBTQ+ equality. 


Pride marketing is not without controversy. Some critics argue that corporations engaging in pride month campaigns are engaging in, "rainbow capitalism" or, "pinkwashing" by using LGBTQ+ symbols solely for profit without actively supporting LGBTQ+ rights or addressing systemic issues faced by the community. With pride month coming up in a few short days, we hope that marketers will learn from past mistakes and use their platform to enhance LGBTQ+ visibility and inclusivity. 

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