In the run-up to Pride in Amsterdam, the biggest LGBTI event in the Netherlands, which starts tomorrow, rainbow flags will once again adorn shop windows, rainbow clothes will be on the shelves and businesses will support the LGBTI community on social media. LGBTI people are critical of the sudden expressions of sympathy.
“About twenty years ago in the Netherlands, you saw that companies and brands started to spread the rainbow flag in advertisements during Pride. Those companies and brands really stuck their necks out,” says Carolien Nieuweboer from the advertising agency Boomerang. But Nieuweboer believes that the time has now passed to only make a good impression with a rainbow logo. With the #PrideIsNotAnAd campaign, the advertising agency is calling on companies to do more and stop using Pride as a marketing opportunity.
“As a company, you have to put your money where your mouth is,” says COC spokesman Philip Tijsma. He cites the Hema retail chain as a good example, which puts rainbow logos on clothes, but also has an LGBTI-friendly policy in the workplace and donates the profits of this clothing line to LGBTI charities.
The fact that some large companies profit from Pride or rainbow products is certainly a touchy subject for many members of the LGBTI community. There is the feeling, among other things, that money is being made on the backs of a minority group.
Putting a rainbow logo on a product once a year is not an endorsement. It’s marketing.
Influencer Matt Bernstein regularly comments on it on Instagram. The American has more than 1 million followers and mentions in his posts companies that he believes are doing it wrong. “Putting a rainbow logo on a product once a year is not an endorsement, it’s marketing,” he writes.
Bernstein mentions, for example, the American telecommunications company AT&T. That company expresses support for the LGBTI community during the annual Pride Month in the United States. At other times, however, the company donates money to US politicians who support legislation in their state that restricts LGBTI rights.
Extreme examples such as AT&T are few in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, there are also companies here that go big during Pride in Amsterdam, but which hardly have any internal policy in the area of diversity and inclusivity, confirm, among others, COC and knowledge center Movisie.
One example is Zeeman, who handed out rainbow T-shirts during Pride in 2018 and also recommended rainbow bags for sale. The company was not a sponsor of the event and did not contribute profits to LGBTI-related causes. Their business strategy also included a bit about LGBTI policies within the company.
Marketing expert Alfred Verhoeven has been researching the use of rainbow flags in companies in their marketing for years. He pointed out that the number of visible expressions of sympathy during Pride from companies has increased enormously since 2015. “Then ‘gay marriage’ became legal in every state in the United States. It changed marketing worldwide, and it also led to growth in the Netherlands.”
’10 percent of companies miss the point’
Although he has no exact figures, Verhoeven estimates that around 10 percent of large Dutch companies “do something with Pride and do it well”, also have an inclusive personnel policy and donate the profits to LGBTI-related causes. According to him, 10 percent of the larger companies are also wrong. “And both of those percentages are growing. It’s not an improvement, but an increase.”
Examples of criticized companies abound, such as the chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely, which had put a rainbow flag on the packaging of a popular product but did not support an LGBTI-related cause. After the necessary criticism, the brand decided not to release the bar from 2019 onwards.
‘Doing nothing is sometimes good’
Verhoeven says he doesn’t want to encourage entrepreneurs to treat rainbow colors. “The majority of companies don’t do anything at all. That’s good, too. If you’re a company that’s marketing something that’s for everyone, why would you target a specific group in a campaign?”
Companies that advertise specifically around Pride should think about that, the marketing expert believes. “Should a very clear example of pinkwashing arise, we will certainly condemn it,” says COC spokesman Tijsma. “Naming and shaming is the best.”