Empty Gestures: How Brands Are Missing the Point This Pride Month

Leo West
June 7, 2019

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a landmark event where queer people fought back against oppressive forces. If you don’t know about it, learn your history, honey!

Since then, pride celebrations have taken part in June to commemorate those who fought for the rights we have today. Now, in our world of late-stage capitalism, brands have recognized that the LGBTQ communities are a demographic that SPEND and love to preach acceptance with Pride-themed products. Some do it better than others, though.

Let’s talk about some brands that missed the mark and how they could improve their campaigns.

Gay Mouthwash


You have probably seen this topic bouncing around social media recently. This year, many Johnson & Johnson products are sporting a rainbow on their packaging. A rainbow Listerine bottle went viral because it showed how companies are trying to capitalize on Pride and the LGBTQ communities. There has been a growing sense in the queer community that throwing a rainbow on whatever your product is without any real sense of why is not a sufficient way to show allyship. It makes those of us in those communities just see it as “gay mouthwash” and it’s a joke.

This ends up really doing the opposite of what the companies want to portray and, in J&J’s case, it cheapens what they are actually doing in support of the LGBTQ communities.  Bottom line: not EVERYTHING during Pride month has to have a rainbow on it.

12 Months a Year of Queer

Something that is important when implementing your Pride campaign is maybe not having it be so June-centric. Take Bud Light for example:

For this year’s Pride month, Bud Light put out rainbow-clad aluminum bottles in the United States. In England, in celebration for World Pride, the company is releasing limited edition cups with the flags of the respective LGBTQ communities. It’s a nice gesture and a step forward in acknowledging trans, asexual, pansexual, and POC individuals. But many were quick to call out Bud Light for their lack of queer pride during the rest of the year. Where is this excitement for queer people at Christmas or Arbor Day? Bottom Line: start showing your support for the LGBTQ communities 12 months a year.

Walk the Walk

This week, YouTube became embroiled in a very public feud with Vox reporter Carlos Maza about homophobic and racist taunts from a prominent right-wing YouTuber. They have since put out new policies around harassment, but many say it’s too little too late. Many believe YouTube didn’t do enough to address the complaints brought forth by Maza and that the company as a whole doesn’t really care about its queer content creators. It’s been very messy to say the least. To make matters worse, YouTube’s social media pages have been plastered with Pride imagery throughout the whole ordeal. It’s not a good look.

What Works

In 2015, Frito-Lay and Doritos came up with idea of Rainbow Doritos to raise funds for the It Gets Better Project. Of course, this could just be seen as slapping a rainbow on a product for good publicity. What Frito-Lay did correctly, though, was put the organization they were helping at the forefront.
Instead of donating a paltry percentage from the proceeds, consumers had to donate $10 to It Gets Better before even getting the chips. Putting the organizations and communities you’re helping above the product is a great example of corporate allyship.
The bottom line is this: If you’re a company saying you care about queer individuals, when you get a chance to really show that, actually do it. If not, your rainbow logo isn’t doing anything.