Skittles’ Rainbow-less Social Campaign Proved Tasteless. Here’s How Social Media Marketers Can Avoid Pride-Washed Content.
By: Sophie Maerowitz
June 1, 2020
On May 20, Skittles pledged to honor LGBTQ Pride Month by removing the rainbow colors from its signature product. “Only one rainbow matters during pride,” greyscale candy wrappers read; 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.
During PRIDE only #OneRainbow matters. That’s why we have given up our rainbow to show support for the LGBTQ+ community! For every SKITTLES Pride Pack sold we are donating $1 to @glaad.🌈 pic.twitter.com/mecpWaVhzA
— SKITTLES (@Skittles) May 20, 2020
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 had 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.
Okay, I see what you were going for, and as a member of the lgbtq+ community, I appreciate you. That being said, maybe this isn’t the best time to unveil ALL-WHITE Skittles. #OneRainbow
— Snakeravencat (@snakeravencat) May 31, 2020
One option Skittles might consider? Hitting the social media kill switch for the time being. Temeka Easter Rice, Sallie Mae’s director of brand engagement, told PRNEWS that having a kill switch in place should be a part of any social media communications plan. In addition, have representatives from all of the groups that matter to your business weigh in on the organization’s crisis plan. Making sure everyone has a seat at the table “saves time and allows you to gather feedback from key stakeholders before a crisis,” says Easter Rice.
Justin Buchbinder, social media director at global integrated firm Finn Partners says that the most important move right now is simply to listen. 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 make a meaningful donation to a charity or nonprofit, 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 the voices of the 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 social marketers 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 a few organizations marketers can consider donating to and amplifying in order 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 the work and stories of gay Black men (download their 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 currently shuttered due to the pandemic, but is fundraising to pay its staff and cover costs until it can re-open).