Wringing out the colors: Rainbow capitalism during and beyond Pride Month

If corporations continue using Pride for marketing, they should internalize that the occasion is a protest, not just another party.

During Pride Month in June, numerous companies integrate LGBTQ+-inclined gimmicks with their products by associating it with the rainbow flag and symbols related to the queer community. However, people question businesses’ approach to Pride in terms of their intention to actually honor the community.

While the local Pride Month marketing campaigns are fairly new, brands are being pushed to take into consideration the real meaning of Pride, not letting “rainbow capitalism” rule what is supposed to be a protest for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Behind the rainbow

“Being gay is political. Pride is fun but it’s also political,” says Ian Carandang, owner of Sebastian’s Ice Cream, who has been part of the organizing team of Pride March for the past years.

Rainbow capitalism, as described by Anna Cubacub, punong babaylan of University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan, is a form of allyship that becomes performative when brands take advantage of the advocacies of the queer community by using it as a marketing ploy.

Akbayan Partylist first nominee and former president of Babaylanes, Inc. Perci Cendaña stresses, “There has to be guarded optimism because we don’t want the cause to be used as a platform by corporations and companies that are not necessarily adhering to the values of Pride.” He furthers that while the support and visibility is welcomed, those that make use of Pride’s platform should be more thoughtful and sincere in its integration to their businesses’ initiatives.

From a business perspective, Department of Marketing and Advertising professor Joseph Emil Santos sees the movement as a risk for various companies. “Organizations that support Pride Month may put their branding at risk, especially in the Philippines where some stakeholders would disagree and reject this type of cause,” he says.

Santos explains that the movement is still seen as a “continuous challenge for the LGBTQ+ [community] and advocates.” Several groups will reject these ideas, especially those who see the movement as “immoral” or “unnatural”. He states that companies should be “careful” in adapting these advocacies not only because of the differences in customer segments, but also because of the many members of the community that expect these Pride movements to be more than just a June tradition.

Through rainbow-colored glasses

There has been debate surrounding the effectiveness of Pride-related marketing campaigns in generating proper representation for the LGBTQ+ community from a social perspective. Numerous LGBTQ+ activists and organizations have spoken up regarding what appears to be performative activism from business outfits that drowns out actual queer voices during Pride Month.

“The traditional rainbow branding during the celebration may actually lead others to think that the representation of the community ends with colors. It simplifies and limits the complexity of our history, struggles, and modern problems,” DLSU PRISM asserts. They add, “When only a portion of the community is accepted, that’s not acceptance at all. It’s a colorful way of promoting segregation in disguise of preference.”

Cendaña also notes that while Pride Month-related marketing campaigns display appreciation, there is a lack of understanding and practice, as they have previously been used to “pinkwash” controversies of corporations. Pinkwashing is the phenomenon of using LGBTQ+ people, imagery, and rights to divert attention away from negative issues surrounding a company.

Moreover, PRISM points out that while Pride campaigns help the LGBTQ+ community gain visibility, there is a tendency for brands to discard their allyship after June. “We would often see businesses present themselves as welcoming to the community, only for them to turn their backs after June. It harms the community in a way that promotes selective social tolerance and performative activism.”

Schezca Pagarigan, owner and graphic designer of Schezca Design, asserts, “Pride does not end in June—it is a protest and people fought for our rights to be heard and be seen in society.”

Raise the flag

“The long history of struggle [and oppression] of the community is not a trend that people can use to promote their business [and] capitalize on…[Businesses] should remember that support does not simply end on slapping rainbows on their products. If they are truly with us, they should be ready to stand with and by us when needed,” says PRISM.

Santos emphasizes the role of education in raising awareness, suggesting that to expand the reach of engagement, there must be efforts in conducting workshops and implementing programs that would support  social discussions on the LGBTQ+ community and help evolve the perceptions surrounding these identities in the Philippines.

Sumayao also identifies authenticity as the “number one gamechanger” for brands these days. Hands-on involvement of companies in year-round pro-LGBTQ+ policies and discussions would make their campaigns more believable, he says.

For businesses to magnify their contributions to the community and adherence to the values of Pride, Carandang, Cendaña, and Cubacub believe that there should be efforts to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues, to implement policies related to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, (SOGIE) and Sex Characteristics within their companies, to provide redress mechanisms for SOGIE-based discrimination and harassment, to donate percentages of profits to LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and to work with LGBTQ+ nongovernment organizations and community workers.

“It’s one thing to say that you are [sponsoring, participating, and marching] in Pride, but what’s more important is how you translate that into your actual operation and that is what we have yet to see,” Cendaña maintains.

Colorful business

However, while rainbow capitalism is widely used around the world,  Cendaña believes that the term is still loosely used.

“To say that there is rainbow capitalism, I think is a stretch,” Cendaña says, explaining that it is yet to be proven and is still to be reflected on.

For Carandang, the release of colorful, personal posts on social media and the flood of rainbow-themed products in the market when June begins is not just business. It is personal to him—a Pride Month treat that became a tradition.

Carandang puts forward, “Representation means a lot. It really means a lot if you can see yourself being represented and celebrated…I take whatever celebrations that they give. It’s a celebration of us.”

“I agree that some of them only use the LGBTQ+ community for their own benefit and use Pride month as a marketing tactic, but for me, it is [still] good to see some representation,” adds Pagarigan.

Santos, on the other hand, believes that the common change of brand logos to rainbows during Pride month “changes the way different industries accept and open opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community.”

“It doesn’t only affect the marketing and advertising scene in terms of content creation or messaging, it also [diversifies] the way audiences perceive and accept the idea of LGBTQIA+ in the different mediums of communication,” he emphasizes.

Santos underscores, “Advocacies in principle should contribute to social changes…the initiative should create an impact on the cause and contribute to the change the LGBTQIA+ community is aiming to achieve.”

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