Skittles returns to controversial colorless packaging in honor of LGBTQ Pride

Dive Brief:

  • In June, Skittles will again remove its signature rainbow design from packaging and the color from its candies to recognize LGBTQ Pride month, according to an announcement.
  • Part of a “Give the Rainbow” campaign, the revamped Pride Packs from the Mars candy brand come in gray and white, with labeling that reads, “Only one rainbow matters during Pride,” reflecting a message shared in years past around Pride. The limited-edition offering, previously sold in Canada, Germany and the U.K., will be available at CVS and select Walmart stores in the U.S.
  • Skittles partnered with GLAAD to donate $1 per pack sold to the LGBTQ media advocacy group up to $100,000. Funds will support GLAAD’s news and campaigns programs, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. Skittles also created a #OneRainbow hashtag to promote the effort online.

Dive Insight:

Brands typically revamp packaging to be more colorful in honor of Pride month, but Skittles is once again taking a starker approach with the largely colorless Pride Packs. The solemn design, beyond attempting to throw a spotlight on larger LGBTQ issues signified by the rainbow, comes as in-person Pride celebrations are canceled en masse due to the novel coronavirus.

“This year when many LGBTQ+ people will be unable to gather at large Pride events, it’s so important that brands, notables, and other allies find authentic and creative ways to show that they stand with our community,” Ellis said in a press statement.

This isn’t the first time Skittles has stripped away its signature vibrant colors to honor Pride. Several years ago, the “Taste the rainbow” brand also opted to sell colorless packaging, but the design then emphasized pure white, which drew criticism on social media, according to Mashable. At the time, many consumers expressed concern that the message could be linked to white pride, a racialist concept promoted by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

Despite previous backlash, Skittles clearly hasn’t been warded off the idea, but it is deploying what appears to be a more varied grayscale versus pure white packaging for 2020. The muted approach could read as more appropriate and resonant given the gloomier circumstances of the pandemic.

Still, Skittles’ previous controversies are emblematic of a broader skepticism of brands marketing around Pride, a period meant to memorialize historic events for LGBTQ progress. The term “Rainbow Washing” has become more common as some consumers express aversion to what they view as companies trying to capitalize on a sensitive moment of remembrance.

Skittles took a different approach around Pride in the U.K. last year, enlisting LGBTQ illustrators to create limited-edition packaging, per Design Week.

On top of the closures of key retail stores and experiential marketing venues, the pandemic has put additional pressures on confectionary marketers. Big sales windows like Easter took a hit as in-person gatherings were limited. However, sales of some comfort foods are on the rise, which could provide a silver lining for brands like Skittles.

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