The world can be a tricky place for marketers and brands these days. Cultural differences can cause a big backlash when too many consumers take offense at certain topics that are endorsed by brands. It is a difficult balance that sometimes tips over to the negative.
Recently companies including Walt Disney, Anheuser-Busch, and Target have faced opposition to their support of the gay and trans communities. For example, June is Gay Pride Month and while many consumers and companies (such as Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, and JC Penney) fully support the issue, others may take an opposite view.
Target’s controversy relates to clothing, décor, and other Pride items which it was selling in support of gay and trans-gender rights. While the company has embraced the topic and products for a number of years, this year it went sideways. In some stores customers knocked down displays, threatened store employees, and posted on social media in opposition to the products.
In response to the controversy, Target moved its Pride products away from the front of the store and pulled several products from sale, all in response to fears about employee safety. The response to Target’s move was disappointment from many consumers and organizations that supported gay rights.
How should we deal with sensitive issues?
Group Activities and Discussion Questions:
- This is a tricky topic for discussion, but one that bears examination by students.
- Discuss how companies can handle divisive topics.
- How should marketers balance messages to communities.
- Poll students: What are topics that are divisive and controversial? What examples have students seen?
- Show video about the issue at Target: https://youtu.be/AvfuoXga77Q
- Show Target’s website for Pride items: https://www.target.com/c/pride/-/N-5589f
- How should marketers address controversial topics?
Source: Nassauer, S. (25 May 2023). Target lands in culture-war crosshairs over pride month. Wall Street Journal; Reid, H. (31 May 2023). Target Pride backlash exposes ‘rainbow capitalism’ problem, designer says. Reuters New service.