How to Avoid Charges of Rainbow Washing During Pride Month

2023 Xbox Pride flag

Pride month is an important opportunity to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, and there’s no shortage of brands and businesses keen to get in on the act. However, as the awareness month has grown, it’s also sparked a trend of "rainbow washing." This is when companies virtue signal support for the LGBTQ+ community by adding rainbow colors to their marketing during Pride month, but without actually doing substantive work to help members of the community.

Examples of Rainbow Washing

Companies do this at their PR peril, as people are quick to call out the worst offenders. Who can forget Xbox’s misfire in 2023 when the gaming giant duly incorporated the progress Pride flag into its logo? Sadly, just a few days later, commercial demands crept in, and the logo celebrating the Pride movement was swapped for a hell-themed one, in support of its newly released game, Diablo IV.

Such short-term support was one issue, but with the new logo literally featuring flames, the whole business played rather uncomfortably into a risky narrative at the time which included some burning of Pride merchandise and intentional violence. As a result Xbox not only upset members of the LGBTQ+ community questioning its half-hearted support, but the profile picture swap also prompted anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric such as “perfect image for Pride. And every other sin.”

So how widespread is the charge of rainbow washing?  Our analysis of online content and conversations from June 13 2023 to June 12 2024 suggests negative sentiment around the topic has increased in the U.S. by 52% and globally by 92%—the vast bulk of this during Pride month.

It's not just global brands like Xbox that need to take care to avoid criticism of its Pride month support. This year Insomnia Cookies is offering a Pride 12-pack during June—with $2 from every sale going to organizations that support inclusive initiatives and communities. So far so good—you might think. However, one eagle-eyed consumer spotted the company charging $3 more for these packs; inviting the obvious observation that the company isn’t actually forfeiting any revenue for these causes.

Insomnia Cookies advertises a Pride 12-pack of cookies and Twitter users are outraged


Fortunately this criticism has been pretty isolated, but it shows how much scrutiny Pride month initiatives can face. So how do brands avoid such charges of rainbow washing?

Advice for Brands

The Approach

On a practical level brands need to think carefully about what their doing for the month, and the ramifications. The errors by Xbox last year, and more recently by Insomnia Cookies, are clumsy ones which could have been easily avoided.

But beyond avoiding slip-ups, more fundamentally, its important to be wholehearted in the business approach. It’s no good supporting Pride month if at its core, and for the rest of the year, the business isn’t inclusive and doesn’t uphold Pride’s values.

Consistent Values Impact Revenue

Secondly comes consistency—even in the face of criticism. We found in our Brand Love research that people only love brands whose values chime with their own. That love translates into action—it doubles customer loyalty, and consumers are three times more likely to recommend a brand they love. In short, brand values have a direct impact on the bottom line.

But by the same token, if someone feels passionately anti-LGBTQ+, those values are theirs, and they will act on them.  Brands need to accept this and, if they truly want to support Pride month, they must accept they will anger some people and potentially lose a customer. Flip-flopping, or having a partial pro-Pride strategy depending on geographical location, doesn’t cut it. You can’t pick and choose your beliefs depending on the local market conditions and still be authentic.

Include the Whole Brand Community

To better ensure an authentic, inclusive, wholehearted approach, it’s worth enabling LGBTQ+ staff, customers and community partners to give input on, and even deliver, any Pride month campaigns. Their insights and engagement are invaluable.

Create Authentic Content

While authenticity is critical, avoid sounding worthy. Create messages and activities that fit the brand’s personality and play to its strengths—so it feels natural, not forced. For instance, this simple post from Porsche is playful and impactful.

Porsche Pride Month ad includes cars in rainbow colors


It’s a simple idea, but took a lot of effort, which those viewing it on social channels clearly appreciated. Featuring both classic and new Porches, it conveys the brand’s heritage. And it neatly plays to the fact you can buy a Porsche in so many colors—more than certain other car brands—a not so sly dig at other carmakers. Beyond this, Porsche has not been deterred by haters—engaging with the fans and leaving followers to deal with critics.

Porsche fans defending brand on Twitter/X for Pride photo

A month-long show of support won’t transform your brand completely. It’s a long haul. Be prepared to be challenged and sometimes criticized along the way, and be prepared to own mistakes and commit to doing better when things go wrong.

Louise Findlay-Wilson is founder of Energy PR.