How to Be More than a Logo: An Unexpected Case Study in Rising Above Rainbow-Washing
June 30, 2023
Written by Russ Gottwald, Associate Strategy Director
2023’s Pride Month is almost over, and it should be no surprise that it’s seen its share of brand-related controversy. That controversy’s gone in some unusual directions this year, not the least of which came when the Texas Family Project tweeted “We take no pleasure in reporting that @CrackerBarrel has fallen.”
So…what caused this panicked announcement about one of the pillars of Southern chain cuisine? This post:
As it turns out, Cracker Barrel “caved to the mob” some time ago. But have they gone beyond empty symbolism? Let’s look at a few pointers and see.
Moving Beyond Rainbow-washing: Be Authentic to Your Brand
Take another look at that Cracker Barrel photo. What do you see? A painted rocking chair on a porch. The front porch is fundamental to Cracker Barrel’s brand – and it’s at the heart of their Pride efforts as well. They’ve been consistent about using both the imagery and language of the porch, as we see here:
Moving Beyond Rainbow-washing: Be Authentic to Your Audience
Imagery and language are all well and good, but they’re as performative as a simple logo change without meaningful action. So how is Cracker Barrel – a company that was openly hostile towards LGBTQ+ employees not so long ago – doing on this front now? The Human Rights Campaign currently rates them 80/100, with full marks in the sub-categories of Workforce Protections and Supporting an Inclusive Culture & Corporate Social Responsibility and points deducted for Inclusive Benefits. So not perfect, but a far cry from where they were.
Moving Beyond Rainbow-washing: Be Ready for the Haters
One of the most vital ways to see how a brand truly feels about inclusivity (particularly where the LGBTQ+ community is concerned) is its response to criticism of its efforts in that direction. As of this post, Cracker Barrel hasn’t wavered in its Pride messaging or retreated from its moves towards greater inclusivity towards employees despite calls for boycotts by self-appointed guardians of moral virtue. That’s not only a welcome contrast with Bud Light and other brands this year, it’s a marked shift from just a decade ago, when the chain pulled Duck Dynasty merchandise from its shelves only to put it back after customer backlash.
Moving Beyond Rainbow-washing: Not Perfect, but Pretty Good
So what should we make of Cracker Barrel in 2023? Are their efforts just more rainbow-washing? Some say so. But it’s equally fair to say that sustained, substantive, multi-year movement in the right direction is something to celebrate rather than denigrate.
Of course, this has just been a look at one brand. And there are a couple of additional bits of advice one might share if you’re curious about how to truly move beyond rainbow-washing – namely, be focused and be willing to keep it up after June’s over. But the takeaway we should get here is that even the unlikeliest of brands can make the jump…if they’re acting in good faith. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to talk about how your brand can do it.