Marketing the Rainbow

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How it began

The vodka brands have been competing for rainbow attention for decades. One reasone for the success of alcoholic drinks in the LGBT market is the higher consumption of alcohol in this group - and unfortunately also the higher prevalence of alcoholism. Another is the preference for more luxury, hence expensive drinks. Finally, due to the limited distribution methods of alcoholic beverages, the results of marketing can more easily be measured than for instance chocolate or shampoo. 

the Pride 2019 bottle
the Pride 365 bottle
the Pride 2018 bottle


Already back in 2012 Dutch brand Effen (which means "smooth") was inspired by the LGBT flag and stated to "celebrate LGBT Pride everyday of the year" with posts on their social media. In later years they stepped up their efforts by partnering with the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival. 

They released limited edition rainbow bottles in 2018 and 2019, donating $1 for every bottle sold to Outfest. The bottles were designed by Carolina Pabon. 

Since 2021 they also collaborate with Allies in Arts, a progressive non-profit that works with artists who are womxn, BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S to help break down barriers and fund their work. This i.a. resulted in the Pride 365 bottle. Consumers can also personalize their Pride 365 bottles with vinyl decals from queer nonbinary Afrolatinx artist Acacia Rodriguez and trans artist Kyle Lasky. 

NB: they als used "effen" tongue-in-cheek as a substitute for "effing", aka f*cking.

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Then there were the 'other brands', who have occasionally targeted the LGBT community. 

One of the first of  to show interest in the rainbow market was Virgin vodka. In a 1996 clip, set in the Edge bar with dance music playing, fast cut images show people having fun, dancing, men kissing, women kissing and Virgin Vodka being poured. British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of all things named Virgin is known for being both gay friendly and PR happy. 

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Svedka is a mid-priced Swedish brand owned by New York-based Constellation Brands, and in 2018 the number-one imported vodka brand in the US. The product name is a portmanteau of the words Sverige ("Sweden") and "vodka". After an unremarkable start in 2006 with a campaign called "The future of adult entertainment", showing a number of women enjoying themselves, they gained rainbow fame with a weird campaign that launched in 2007. Leading character was a fembot (who featured in the previous year too), and a lot of innuendo was used, such as "I go both ways, straight up and on the rocks", "Gay women still prefer Svedka over sex with men" and "Didn't know your husband was gay? Blame Svedka". They were criticized for the way they portrayed women, by groups such as the Womens UN Report Network.

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In 2011 they were the sponsor of San Diego Pride. In 2018 they went the extra mile and teamed up with the "adults-only piñata brand NIPYATA! to create the ultimate Pride party favor". An oversized Svedka bottle piñata iwas filled with the brand’s Blue Raspberry, Cucumber Lime, and Grapefruit Jalapeno flavored vodka nips. A portion of all proceeds went towards the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

They also supplied rainbow merchandise to bars.

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Diageo's RÖKK is another Swedish vodka brand, vying for the attention of the LGBT consumer. (Spirits Review said: "Better than Svedka- but that is not saying much"). The vodka gets its name from the Rök Runestone, the name of the largest and most famous Viking Rune which was found near the distillery where the vodka is made. 

In 2011 GLAAD welcomed RÖKK Vodka as its Presenting Partner for the GLAAD Media Awards series.

In addition to providing the means for attendees to celebrate at the New York Awards Show RÖKK rolled out a blue carpet for celebrities to walk, encouraged presenters and award winners to incorporate "RÖKK Vodka" into their speeches for a charitable contribution from the brand, and asked celebrities to autograph a RÖKK-inspired piece of artwork from noted fashion and celebrity photographer, Mike Ruiz.

These initiatives were planned for the Los Angeles

and San Francisco awards show as well. The brand

was thrilled to announce that they raised $10,000 

in proceeds.

Under the (recurring) pay-off "Filtering out Inequality" they celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York in 2011.

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42 Below

42 Below is a vodka brand from New Zealand, owned by the Bacardi group. This irreverent vodka company, whose name refers to their location at the 42nd parallel, has made some bold ads to stand out in a mature category where several vodka brands already seek gay drinkers. 

A print ad from 2005 reads: "Drinking 42 Below Passionfruit vodka is like walking along the street and seeing this really hot girl and all you can think is "Man, I don't understand how anyone can be gay." The bottom of the ad adds, "Sure I can see how some buff young guy all decked out in Gucci can turn your dial. But when you compare him to this girl with her high heels, forcing her bum out a little, and her t-shirt just a pinch too tight, and that confident 'I don't care about you' walk -- Bam! Now that's what I'm talking about!"

In the same year they used the pay-off: "Drink It Straight Or Gay". A number of outrageous and irreverent commercials followed, full of curse words, odd references, and lots of, eh... "gay".

In 2011 they came out for marriage equality in New Zealand, with the slogan "Don't be a dick. Vote yes." - a term that was also used as in "Don't be a dick. Drink responsibly". Facebook followers largely supported the brand’s advocacy for marriage equality.

However, some users disagreed with the brands use of “dick” claiming it to be “disrespectful”. Responding to the comment another user suggested 42 Below change the word “dick” to “proper muppet”, resulting in the company re-doing the ad.

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42 Below managed 23,000 likes and over 1,040 comments for the post, sparking a humorous comment thread which the vodka brand was actively engaged in.

In 2008 they were main sponsor of the Mardi Gras Sydney for the 30th anniversary. In later editions, like 2018, they participated via local partnerships, i.a. with Tatler Bar - who posted suggestive clips on their socials: one with two kiwis looking like testicles, and one suggesting a zit on a bum.

Project Runway gay judge Rami Kashou featured in an ad in 2012.

The others

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In 2007 Saatchi and Saatchi created a print ad campaign for 42 Below Vodka with a few mysterious rebuses, that won a Clio award. One journalist said: "God knows why. There's the two following examples of the campaign, which use the typical straight male fear of other penises to make fun of 1) gay men and 2) trans women. [And don't get me started on how the ad with the man and the trans woman was titled "Transvestite." I interpreted the ad about being about a man and a woman who happened to have a dick. A woman who happens to have a dick is transgendered, but not necessarily a transvestite. People can be so stupid sometimes.]"

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This article was last update May 4, 2022

Finlandia had a 'pansexual' commercial back in 1998, and ran the ad "The Naked Finn, Straight Up, But Never Straight" in 2005.

In 1999 Bison told us "Nothing wrong with that" about the grass in their vodka, but meanwhile showing kissing girls.

Ruski vodka ran an ad in the Midsumma Melbourne (gay festival) 2002 program book.

In the same year, WKD had a commercial in the UK with guys joking around in a locker room.  

In 2003 Grey Goose "came out" with a print ad aimed at gays.

Blavod black vodka had a print ad with a lesbian kiss in the UK in 2005.

Then there were limited edition pride bottles from Stateside, available at its Philadelphia distillery and nearby retail outlets. Stateside donated proceeds to the the William Way LGBT Community Center.

Grey Goose - Sidney Frank
Ruski - Diageo
Bison Brand Vodka
Finlandia - Brown-Forman Corp 2005.
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Albany Distilling Co. (est. 2011) gave a shout out to the LGBT+ community with the rainbow flag flying on their ALB Pride Vodka, spreading support and awareness with every bottle. They paired-up with the Pride Center of the Capital Region. 

In 2015 Cardinal Spirits produced Queer Vodka in support of Bloomington PRIDE.

Premier vodka distiller Neft showed their support for equality with the launch of a very unusual Pride vodka barrel: rather than a glass bottle, it was instead served from a metal drum. Celebrity photographer and artist Paul Robinson design depicted a bustling city filled with people of all different colors.

It all started when a Swedish vodka wanted to conquer the US. Absolut launched their brand via the gay demographic in 1979 and has been a consistent supporter of the LGBT community ever since, through advertising, sponsoring and vocal support in political matters. It has resulted in a huge array of colorful, creative and gay-friendly advertising, including openly gay artists such as Warhol, Haring and Ford. See separate case study Absolut.

Next up was Stolichnaya, who reportedly started targeting the LGBT in 1992. There is this (unjustified?) boycot when Russia introduced anti-LGBT legislation, but for the rest the brand has given us attention with the only dedicated LGBTQ+ Global Brand Ambassador I am aware off. See separate case study Stolichnaya.

The fourth big brand in this field is Smirnoff. In 2017 they claimed to have been a supporter of the LGBT community for twenty years, so starting in 1997. They have displayed a varied and colorful display of rainbow advertising over the years. See separate case study Smirnoff.

Around the same time SKYY, an American vodka produced by the Italian Campari Group, discovered this market. They have focused on standing up for political causes, such as marriage equality in quite a few different markets. See separate case study SKYY.

Ogden’s Own Distillery unveils gay-themed 'Five Husbands' vodka for pr
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Tom of Finland

A special mention goes to the vodka with the iconic Tom of Finland label. It is produced in small batches by Master Distiller Mika Mönkkönen at Lignell & Piispanen, which is the second oldest family run company in Finland. Proceeds from every purchase go back to the Tom of Finland Foundation, a non-profit foundation established by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner in 1984 to preserve the artist's catalogue of work and educate the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art, promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes towards sexuality. 

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"The amazing story of Tom of Finland’s life provides us with a shining inspiration and a genuine message of acceptance and love. Tom’s men are happy men: His art radiates joy. True to his art, the vodka is joyful, iconic and daring. We at Tom of Finland Organic Vodka encourage people from all walks of life to be what they are, to be happy on their own terms. Put a bottle on the table and you’ll make a statement without saying a word."

Tom of Finland would have turned 101 on May 8, 2021.  To celebrate his birthday, the vodka maker gathered iconic images celebrating various photographer’s interpretations of the Tom of Finland ethos, and auctioned them to raise money for the Tom of Finland Foundation.

SERV - Vodkas with Natural Flavors (2021)

Six RuPaul's Drag Race alums got into the spirits business. Manila Luzon, Trixie Mattel, Trinity the Tuck, Sharon Needles, Monét X Change and Alaska 5000 partnered with Producer Entertainment Group and Casa Maestri Distillery to launch a SERV Vodka, a line of flavored vodkas that hopes to capitalize on the mass appeal of the multi-million dollar drag industry.

Ogden’s Own Distillery unveils gay-themed 'Five Husbands' vodka for pr
Blavod black vodka UK 2005
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queer vodka
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Crystal Head Vodka, which was founded by actor Dan Aykroyd, launched an amazing rainbow skull bottle in 2021 to “celebrate diversity and equality” in aid of Kaleidoscope Trust.

The Utah-based Ogden's Own Distillery, which caused a stir in 2012 with its polygamy-themed Five Wives vodka unveiled gay-themed 'Five Husbands' vodka for Pride Month 2019. The limited edition (3,000 bottles), which featured five hunky men with nothing but roosters covering their nude bodies, was the official liquor of the 2019 Utah Pride Festival.

Case study: Rainbow Vodkas

Branche: fmcg