Beware Pride-Washing: Skittles’ Un-Rainbow Is Not to Audience Taste

skittles rainbow pride campaign

On May 20, Skittles pledged to honor LGBTQ Pride Month by removing the rainbow colors from its signature product. Greyscale candy wrappers read “Only one rainbow matters during pride,” and individual candies will temporarily be leeched of color. Skittles will donate $1 per pack of its all-white Skittles to LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, up to $100,000. The campaign is a revamped version of previous “one rainbow” efforts from previous years, which received mixed reviews.

The message of LGBTQ solidarity is unquestionably important during a pandemic, as “many LGBTQ+ people will be unable to gather at large Pride events,” per a statement from GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. However, given nationwide attention on police brutality and racial inequality, Skittles and other companies that planned rainbow-oriented Pride campaigns in early June risk appearing tone deaf. The promoted campaign hashtag #OneRainbow was trending on Twitter over the weekend; many users were unimpressed by the timing.

One option Skittles might consider: Hitting the social media kill switch, at least for the moment. Temeka Easter Rice, Sallie Mae’s director of brand engagement, told PRNEWS that having a kill switch should be part of any communications plan. In addition, have representatives of stakeholders weigh in on your organization's crisis plan. Making sure everyone has a seat at the table “saves time and allows you to gather feedback ...before a crisis,” she says.

Justin Buchbinder, social media director at global integrated firm Finn Partners, says that the most important move now is listening. Based on the tone and subject matter of online discussion, “look back over your scheduled posts and campaigns and ask yourself: ‘Is this right, right now?’ If your gut tells you no, hit the pause button.” This content can still be used down the line.

In the meantime, Buchbinder advises organizations that want to send a message of solidarity in the current climate to make a meaningful donation and highlight minority voices.

On the broader question of Pride marketing, Pride-washing, and advantageous marketing writ large, Buchbinder stresses to “make sure that your heart is in the right place. Slapping a rainbow on a product rings hollow and phony.” He advises spotlighting voices of LGBTQ people within your organization, telling their stories.

Above all else, “make sure that there is meaning behind your marketing. If that core essence is lacking, your plans will backfire and you will surely hear it from those who come upon it,” Buchbinder adds.

For communicators unsure how to make a statement around recent events, writer and business analyst Josh Bernoff, the man behind the "No Bullshit" blog, has you covered. Bernoff wrote a recent article on communications hits and misses around nationwide protests and has offered to provide direct feedback on select inquiries.

Below are organizations communicators can consider donating to and amplifying to contribute meaningfully to the Pride conversation in 2020. They also provide examples of relevant, authentic content at the intersection of LGBTQ issues and racial inequality.

  • Anti-Violence Project: New York-based group that empowers LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities and allies to end violence through organizing and education, supporting survivors through counseling and advocacy. The organization also coordinates the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which works to create systemic and social change through data analysis, policy, education and technical assistance.
  • Native Son (Instagram/Twitter): A platform for Black men in the LGBTQ community, empowering and promoting their work and stories (download a sizzle reel here).
  • C’mon Everybody: New York City bar, club and music venue known for its role as a community hub for LGBTQ Black and Latinx people, with regular programming showcasing queer artists of color. (The venue is shuttered due to the pandemic, but is fundraising to pay staff and cover costs until it can re-open).