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Companies scrap over-the-top pride plans to escape June's backlash for business

A view of rainbow bottles of Bud Light during the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards New York at New York Hilton Midtown on May 04, 2019, in New York City.
A view of rainbow bottles of Bud Light during the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards New York at New York Hilton Midtown on May 04, 2019, in New York City. | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for GLAAD

It wasn’t that long ago that the mainstream media mocked conservatives for trying to flex their consumer muscle. Not anymore. A year removed from the Bud Light fiasco that sparked a thousand boycotts, even USA Today is admitting — the grassroots strategy worked. LGBT Pride, at least as a wholesale business concept, is dead. For companies brave (or foolish) enough to test Americans’ outrage in 2024, one thing is for certain: there’s no pot of gold at the end of this June’s rainbow.

To most CEOs’ surprise, the wave of national fury over trans activism hasn’t just remained steady over the past 14 months — it’s exploded in strength and scope. The firepower that consumers have unleashed against brands like Target, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Disney, Planet Fitness, and others have put companies on defense at a time of year when they’re used to passing the Left’s annual test of LGBT loyalty. Now, thanks to painful pushback that’s crashed stocks and sales, the conversations in those corporate board rooms have dramatically changed. Instead of, “How can we maximize our visibility on Pride?” the question has become, “What can we do to show our support without burning consumer bridges?”

The result, USA Today’s Jessica Guynn points out, is a much more muted June than years past. “Expect fewer rainbow logos for LGBTQ Pride Month,” she warned. Strategists like Matt Skallerud of Pink Media, who’s entire job is helping brands reach the LGBT demographic, says he used to be “pretty busy working on Pride projects.” “I can tell you for myself,” he admitted, “I have not been — and I think it’s across the board.” If the goal was to make “Pride” toxic for brands, as conservative Matt Walsh urged, then mission accomplished.

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Even Skallerud concedes that displays like Target’s “tuck” swimwear and chest binders are a thing of the past for now. “Nobody in the media, marketing, and advertising world wants to admit how heavy and hard this has been,” he said. “Ever since Target and Bud Light had their fiascos last year, a tremendous number of brands have decided it would be much better to sit on the sidelines and let this sort itself out.” 

This modest approach to Pride Month probably won’t sit well with the architects of sexual radicalism. Already, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has witnessed a stunning drop in the number of companies who earned 100% on their Corporate Equality Index. In 2023, after Dylan Mulvaney’s corporate partnerships poisoned the profit well, 297 businesses scaled back their LGBT advocacy, losing their perfect score. Now, GlobalData’s Neil Saunders told Guynn, brands are in a pickle.

“If you promote Pride, some people will be unhappy with it. If you don’t promote Pride, some people will be unhappy about that. It’s not a battle you can win completely, which is why some retailers and brands are taking a middle-of-the-road approach and keeping it moderate,” Saunders pointed out. “They are doing some promotion but they are restricting it to things that they think are palatable and acceptable for most people.” And that’s not going to change any time soon, he warned. “Retailers and brands will be more cautious about how they promote issues and causes.”

Of course, there are those, like the pigheaded Levi Strauss, who’d rather fall on their rainbow swords than give an inch on their political agenda. “This year’s Pride collection marks 10 years that the Levi’s brand has been celebrating Pride with products, marketing and a $100,000 USD donation to Outright International, a global organization working to advance human rights for LGBTQ+ people all over the world. We are excited about this year’s collection and our plans to engage consumers,” they announced.

Woke Wells Fargo joined their suicide mission, stubbornly declaring, “Our plans this year are not scaled back; we have celebrated Pride Month in the past and will continue in the future.” Even Walmart, who should’ve learned from Target to leave well enough alone, tweeted its excitement about the company’s new Pride collection.

According to polling, they’re in for a bumpy ride. The latest Axios/Harris survey of U.S. businesses uncovered a huge swing in how left-leaning brands were viewed. “Nearly two-thirds of the companies in this year’s survey saw their total reputation quotients decline. That figure,” Axios explains, “represents how a brand ranks across seven attributes: trust, character, ethics, vision, citizenship, growth and products and services.” Forty-four percent of Americans said their overall opinion of companies fell — especially those “overly focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

On the other hand, brands that stayed out of the cultural controversy or “traditionally conservative-leaning brands” saw “sizeable gains in corporate reputation.” Businesses like Hobby Lobby, Subway, the Trump Organization, Fox Corporation, and others got a big bounce in approval from a country fed up with leftist politics. Clearly, Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema said, Americans “are more picky this year and holding companies to account.”

“Washington Watch” guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice is thrilled that corporations are finally counting the cost of their social extremism. Watching brands like Target walk back their in-your-face extremism this summer shows that grassroots Americans are winning. “There’s been significant backlash — not only on a personal level of consumer boycotts,” he pointed out on Wednesday’s show, “but states [have] even divested from funds like Blackrock” over their woke ESG agendas.

That’s a significant sea change, 1792 Exchange President Paul Fitzpatrick agreed. “As we know, historically, corporations had close relationships with Republicans and the Right, kind of working for lower taxes and favorable regulations. And that happened for a long, long time.” But for the last 20 years, there’s been “the marriage of Wall Street’s desire to make money, and the Left’s desire to use corporations to impose policies on the American people that they can’t get passed legislatively.” For a while, he pointed out, “it worked well. Everybody got what they wanted … Wall Street folks were making a lot more money. The activists were getting policies forced down the throats of customers and employees and manipulating capital markets from corporations — a lot of it coming from the big asset managers Blackrock, State Street, Vanguard. And they really were kind of running unimpeded.”

But by 2021, states started pushing back. “You saw state legislatures coming in and saying, ‘We are not going to do business … with companies that are boycotting our core industries [like fossil fuels]’ … That has forced the big asset managers to change their tune. They’re not talking about ESG in the same way they were. Many of them are calling it a dirty word. In essence, Larry Fink of Blackrock, who’s really the godfather of pushing this [is backing away from that messaging] … And so it’s been encouraging to see people wake up.”

Now, thanks to Bud Light and so many other casualties of excessive Pride, Americans have started to realize how much power they have to change the corporate landscape. Eighty percent of marketing executives are now nervous about how to play these divisive issues, Vox reports. And they should be. Only 20% of the country is now “interested in corporations taking a stand on political issues or current events.” The arc of consumerism is back to a Switzerland mentality, where woke advocacy is too great a risk, Michael Serazio insists. “Activism ain’t selling like it used to.”

And look, Fitzpatrick pointed out, “We want American corporations to be very profitable, but we want them to focus on producing good products and services, not on political [advocacy].” As Doug Zanger, an industry expert told Vox, “These are thorny, real-life issues that I honestly don’t think [companies] need to take a stand against. If I’m a brand manager that’s selling soap, I don’t know why I would bother.”

At the end of the day, consumers aren’t asking for a lot. This isn’t about Starbucks selling MAGA hats or Doritos clamoring for a border wall. All Americans want is neutrality. The assurance that when they shop for mouthwash, they aren’t hit over the head with an agenda that wants to neuter their children or groom them for RuPaul’s Drag Race. In a world where even fast food has become a middle-class luxury, the only political cause every family cares about is inflation. Maybe now, brands are recognizing what they once did: value — not values — is what matters.

Originally published at The Washington Stand. 

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer for The Washington Stand. In her role, she drafts commentary on topics such as life, consumer activism, media and entertainment, sexuality, education, religious freedom, and other issues that affect the institutions of marriage and family. Over the past 20 years at FRC, her op-eds have been featured in publications ranging from the Washington Times to The Christian Post. Suzanne is a graduate of Taylor University in Upland, Ind., with majors in both English Writing and Political Science.

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