By Cam Cochrane (they/them)
Photograph by Anest Williams she/her
TW: Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia
Advertising is everywhere. Fed to us on billboards, magazines, or even when our favourite influencers are used as mouthpieces for the capitalist machine. Advertising works because of its specificity to the target audience, and this time its queer folks’ turn in the hot seat. The Pink Pound was a term coined (*wink*) by the Guardian in 1984 with reference to the economic spending power of the LGBTQ+ community. Roughly, every year the Pink Pound is estimated to be valued around 6 billion pounds in the UK alone. Though this capitalisation of the queer community is beneficial to the economic majority, many of us see little to no return for this economic drain on both our identities and wallets. The co-opting of our identities results in conglomerates breaking down queer identities and aesthetics into resalable stereotypes that are churned back out to us under the guise of moral and ethical progress. This rainbow washing allows toleration to be bundled in a bag of white Skittles, a rainbow icon on your Facebook profile picture, rainbow t-shirts or any other ill-tasting metaphor of queer acceptance. This form of advocacy reeks of force and capitalist priority without any real look into the queer lived experience and the queer identity as a social and political body.
Though the negatives of rainbow washing are rife, it still strikes me as important to explore the power of the Pink Pound and any other social impacts of said currency. I believe that the ethical permissibility of queer co-opting fully depends upon the work put in by companies outside of their advertising image. The impact of the Pink Pounds’ recognition has influenced the socialisation and acceptance of queer folk in everyday life. With companies such as IKEA advertising two queer men shopping for their home furniture, it places queer relationships in the collective imagination and recognises them as ‘normal’. They shop for furniture just like everyone else and should be accepted as such. In fact, it is quite common to recognise a queer relationship in everyday advertising without the advert bringing direct attention to the fact that ‘look we are progressive, we have fags in our adverts’ but ‘look we have fags in our adverts’ is never enough. Too many times have companies bowed down to the social weight of pride month, produced an ‘LGBTQ+ product’ while simultaneously putting money in the wallet of anti-lgbtq+ organisations *cough* Amazon and McDonald’s *cough*. It fails to surprise me though, as capitalism frames queer lives as optional economic variables and not as a political body that deserves authentic representation and advocacy. A prime example was Heinz, who decided to pull an advert on June 20th, 2008, that featured a queer couple because they had received numerous complaints from homophobic bean lovers. This example is important because it clearly highlights the priority of the financial aspect of advertising and not the social or political importance of human rights. Companies like Heinz dive into the pink wallet and begin to drown under the expectations that they should actually care about the people they profit off of.
Of course, all of this is built within a capitalist framework. Whether queer identities should be used in marketing relies on your ideas about capitalism overall. Though the capitalisation of the Pink Pound has resulted in both negatives and positives for queer representation, capitalism benefits way more than any of us ever will. Resistance to the system is important as only then can we actively question the economic might around us. A larger conversation around anti-capitalist resistance is bound up in the queer lived experience. However, there are active steps we can take within the capitalist framework that would result in our economic might being returned to us in the future.
Pride month is a prime annular moment to actively criticise these companies that benefit from the Pink Pound. June’s pride month results in an influx of rainbows, gimmicks, and empty promises. This picture is further complicated when Pride events tend to rely on sponsorships from these very companies; our experience is shaped by these companies regardless of how free we think we can be. We have seen this already with the banning of sexually explicit content on OnlyFans due to its need to comply with requests from their banking partners and payout providers. The power that companies hold over events like Pride allows them to financially withdraw support if Pride events are not palatable to their vision. This is where active resistance and organising is required. Supporting companies that fulfil their promises of queer advocacy is vital. Not only does it allow charities and other queer services to financially benefit from this support, but it also allows events like Pride to be in our control once again. Things like kink or non-monogamy, that have been rejected by big business, belong at the heart of our Pride because they actively resist the dominant social power within this capitalist chokehold that our queer bodies are subjected to.
1 Springfair ‘The LGBT Market: How Much is the Pink Pound Worth?’ Available at:
2 The Drum ‘1994: Ikea features openly gay couple in commercial created by Deutsch’ Available at: https://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/03/31/1994-ikea-features-openly-gay-couple-commercial-created-deutsch
3 Independent Nathan Place ‘These are some of the companies celebrating Pride month who have previously donated to anti-LGBT+ politicians’ Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/pride-month-anti-gay-politicians-companies-b1862009.htm
4 PinkNews ‘Video: the gay advert that Heinz decided to pull’ Available at: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2008/06/24/video-the-gay-advert-that-heinz-decided-to-pull/
5 HTC Eliisa Bain, ‘Why is OnlyFans banning sexual content? New rules explained.’ Available at: https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2021/08/20/why-is-onlyfans-banning-content/