Rainbow-Washing, Femvertising & Everything Wrong With Woke Marketing

International Women’s Day is just around the corner, and Pride month isn’t a million miles away either. So, this brings me to talk about something that every year I sit down to write, and never quite find the words to say. And that is about the issue of ‘woke marketing’ and my issue with brands supporting causes like these as a token, as opposed to doing anything actually worthwhile.

Because in some respect, awareness is awareness, but on the other hand, I find businesses using gender equality or LGBTQ+ rights as a selfish way to bolster their own agenda, absolutely unbearable.

What’s Woke Washing, And What’s The Problem?

Something many of us in the industry are probably familiar with by now, ‘woke washing’ is a term that was coined to explain the act of businesses fronting with campaigns and messages around topical causes, but actually doing very little to actually support them. Basically, they’re doing it for reputational gain.

When you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that many businesses are guilty of this.

Think Burger King, for example, they infamously tweeted last year, “women belong in the kitchen” on International Women’s Day, using that as a shameless gateway to then go on and promote their culinary apprenticeships. It didn’t take long for people to pick apart this cheap and lazy attempt at ‘grabbing attention (which is a can of worms I won’t open), but also to air the fact that the executive board of Burger King had a 100% male make up at the time. This is a classic example of companies taking something topical, using it to their advantage but only offering surface-level support.

It’s like a crappy version of newsjacking.

And my problem is not only that it’s cheap and lazy, and very very unethical, but it’s also just not good PR. The problem with PR is that it’s become all about going ‘viral’ and being seen by as many people as possible, but when you pick a campaign apart like that, you’ll find it’s very short-lived, and actually does nothing to seriously strengthen the reputation and position of the brand. Which is ultimately what good communication is all about.

I could write a list of all the examples that come to mind (the ridiculous LGBT sandwich stunt by M&S is also calling to me) but I’d be here all day. The bottom line is that far too many brands use good causes to promote the wrong things, and that needs to stop. It’s not a good look for the brand when their lack of real action becomes transparent, but also, it takes away from the things that really do matter (I’m looking at you again, Burger King).

Credit: Reboot Online

How Brands Should Be Doing It

All of this, though, isn’t to say that brands shouldn’t be communicating on and through International Women’s Day, Pride month and all of the other fantastic awareness days that are out there. They should – when they have reason to do so!

So, in my opinion, here’s how it can be done…

  • Use your platform to generate awareness for the cause, not for your own gain – many of these dedicated days, weeks and months are about getting the word out about imortant subject matters; if your brand is unselfishley contributing to that; then there’s no harm done. However, think about what you’re posting and whether it matches up to your own ethos. For example, don’t take to social media to champion women’s rights if you’re not practising equal pay, or if, like Burger King, your board of directors seriously lacks diversity.
  • Talk about what you’re doing – one of the biggest bugbears for me, is brands that talk about a cause on the days that its topical to do so, but actually does nothing for those said causes. This theme underpins this whole blog post and is the main thing that needs to change; use awareness occasions to talk about what you’re doing to support those things, but be honest about what you’re actually doing.
  • Don’t make it irrelevant, or alll about you – if you have nothing of value to contribute to the conversation, then don’t contribute at all. They’re known for their controvesial marketing, so I guess they asked for this, but unfortunately I revert back to Burger King once more. International Women’s Day has long been known as a time to raise up women and give a platform to ongoing issues we face both in this country, and all over the world; Burger King instead saw it as an opportunity to take a cheap shot and open the floodgates for fans telling them that they’ve just pulled off “OMG the best marketing stunt ever… Epic!”. Just not cool guys, have some integrity.

96% of people said that brands should be more supportive of Pride all year round, not just in the month of June; and I think that tells you everything you need to know.

As we approach the time of year when we begin to feed these awareness days into our strategies, let’s just remember to make sure we’re contributing positively; and not selfishly. If you have anything you’d like to add, let me know on Twitter!

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen from Pexels

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