Washed out: the dangers of brand washing.

Some things are better washed. Hands, veggies, dogs. 

Some things aren’t. AirPods, tissues, your brand.

Brand washing is when brands pretend to have the same values as you do in order to make sales. Like when you’re on a date and pretend to be interested in the stock market because they’re paying. Or when you’re nodding enthusiastically in a work meeting that could have been an email. Brand washing, like love, is all around. 

Let’s separate our truths, lies, and colours to make sure you’re not washing out your brand. 

Wash out

 Why do people wash their brands?

It’s not because they want to be squeaky clean. It’s because it sells. But with 83% of Millennial and Gen Z consumers indicating they want to purchase from companies that align with their beliefs, and social, cultural, and environmental issues now key drivers for purchasing decisions and brand loyalty, getting caught being inauthentic in your values could be a tough stain to remove.

Types of washing: 

Green washing 

It’s not easy being green…but it’s easy enough to pretend you are. Green washing is when brands make themselves appear more eco-happy and environmentally friendly than they are, in order to target the hot and heavy sustainability-minded market. 

Kim Kardashian’s new skincare brand SKKN has already come under fire for green washing. The official press release for SKKN claims that the products are “grounded in the brand’s ethos of sustainability”, despite the products using an excessive amount of plastic packaging compared to the industry standard. With double packaging and ‘refillable’ products that just swap one plastic container for another, the packaging is about as environmentally friendly as Kim’s private jet.  

Pink washing 

“Girl power” lost some of its marketing sheen in the post Spice Girl era. “You go girl” made us cringe instead of cheer, and we wanted to see the true realities of being a woman reflected in marketing. Pink washing is when companies say they want to empower women, but don’t follow through on that promise. From pink fried chicken to pink fracking drill bits (yep, seriously) companies trying to show they support women often stop at the colour coding part and skip the ‘doing something helpful’ part.

Fast fashion is an industry where pinkwashing goes right to the well-dressed core of the problem. We see mass-produced shirts with ‘The Future is Female’ slogans splashed across the chest, without acknowledging that 80% of garment workers are overworked and underpaid women, potentially working in dangerous environments. 

Women spend 226% more on clothing per year than their male counterparts, yet behind the curtain, 86% of fast fashion businesses are owned, run, and top-level managed by men. You’re reading that correctly: only 14% of fashion brands have women in positions of power. Yikes. Male led brands are cashing in on female buying power, doing things like using diverse models to represent ‘real’ women’ to get body positivity brownie points, or co-opting feminist slogans for products and marketing, whilst simultaneously taking advantage of the women creating the products they push. Male-owned fast fashion brands like Boohoo, ASOS, and H&M have all been called out for the conditions their garment workers work in, and there’s just no cute way to dress up superficially championing equality, diversity, and female empowerment, whilst holding down the women your business relies on. 

Rainbow washing 

Rainbow washing is when brands make superficial changes, like uploading a rainbow logo or launching a limited edition Pride range, in order to cash in on the LGBTQ+ purchasing power, usually during Pride Month, without providing that level of inclusivity or support for the rest of the year. 

Can brands authentically respect and support the LGBTQ+ community? Absolutely. And they should be. Is the best way to do that with a rainbow avatar on Instagram and a #SlayTheSale hashtag for Pride Month? Absolutely not. Supporting the queer community needs to be an ongoing commitment. Making meaningful changes like shifting to inclusive language, bringing out permanent gender-neutral ranges, introducing inclusivity initiatives (hello Bonds), working with LGBTQ+ influencers and models, and ensuring the workplace is a safe and inclusive environment from the top down, are just some of the ways companies can truly support the community. 

Rainbow washing is usually grounded in a sense of hypocrisy. Companies like Walmart and The Walt Disney Company cheerfully splash rainbows everywhere for Pride Month, whilst donating to anti-gay politicians year-round. Of course, Gen Z have found one way of dealing with it: they’re making TikToks in-store, “reviewing” the Pride Month merch, mocking the products, and highlighting the hypocrisy. Brutal, justified, and definitely not the organic engagement these brands were hoping for. Companies will have to take their rainbow-tinted glasses off and do more than hashtag #LoveIsLove in order to make an impact on the Gen Z LGBTQ+ market.   

Brand washing is easy to avoid.

If you want to be an eco-friendly brand, ensure everything from your production process to your office recycling system is sustainable. Want to truly help support women? Look internally first. Can’t wait to celebrate Pride Month? Consider donating to a charity or giving LGBTQ+ creators a platform instead of just making your logo temporarily rainbow. 

The difference between brand washing and authentic support is putting your money, and your actions, where your mouth is. Consistently. 

Need a squeaky clean brand? We can help with that.