Pride or Prejudice? Corporations Are Taking a Stand for Social Justice

 In Blog

Today’s abundance of corporate branding tied to social issues and cultural movements is a marketing phenomenon of our times.

Corporations were once loathe to take sides in social activism for fear of alienating customers, shareholders, workers or recruits. It was simply safer to remain neutral on social issues and wade in on trade, taxes, and economic policy only – essential bread and butter issues – rather than risk alienating consumers thru activism.  And few expected otherwise.

Indeed, the 1990s may be the first decade when the corporate activism we see today was taking root.  

In 1996, it was Disney that took an early stand for gay rights, offering a “Gay Day” at its theme parks. Southern Baptists quickly denounced the “anti-Christian and anti-family direction,” waging a boycott against Disney. Whether it reflects a love of equality or devotion to Mickey, America sided with Disney and the boycott was eventually (eight years later!) abandoned.

More recently, Dicks Sporting Goods wasted no time eliminating gun sales following the Parkland shooting. Dick’s Chief Executive Edward Stack pressed Congress to adopt gun-safety measures, aligned himself with gun-control activists, was shunned by gun sellers, buyers and firearms industry employees, and became one of the most cited names in the gun debate.

Still more recently is Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick as the face of its new ad campaign marking the 30th anniversary of its Just Do It campaign. 

But, the outpouring of LGTBQ support in June, 2019, demonstrated by the rainbowing of American corporations (Fluent PR, included!), is – what exactly?

A reflection that companies are woke and ready to take a stand?

Recognition that LGBTQ is mainstream? 

The exploitation of a social movement turning pride into profit?

As one who turns green at the pink-washing of commerce in October for breast cancer – don’t get me started – I’m a skeptic inclined toward the third option.

But, admittedly, standing for pride isn’t the same as standing for cancer and it’s indeed remarkable to see companies from Absolut to Zappos welcoming the diversity that is intrinsic to embracing gay rights.  

Such a stand in today’s political atmosphere is even more impressive given that prejudice has also found its voice and a rainbow insignia is as good as a target for those less tolerant.

It’s easier to stand on the sidelines and let others fight the fight, sure.  Let’s go back to the 90’s when our favorite local-gone-global Michael Jordon was asked to support Democrat Harvey Gantt’s campaign to replace segregationist incumbent Jesse Helms as a North Carolina senator.  His response?  Reportedly, he said “Republicans buy sneakers too.”  

There is actually some controversy as to whether he said that, but the line remains a good example of the nature of corporate activism. 

Fluent PR applauds those companies ready to take stand and use their brands to achieve broader social justice.  With the nature of today’s social media, 24-hour news cycles, a feverish rush to judgement and delight in all-things-sparking-controversy, their very choice to wade in, signals a confidence in what will ultimately be the right side of history.

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