Kamikaze Marketing: Why One Corporation After Another Is Falling on Its Woke Sword
A while back, I covered the mysterious CEI scores that seemed to be the root of Budweiser’s poorly thought-out marketing campaign with transgender TikToker Dylan Mulvaney. Budweiser and its parent company, Anheuser Busch, have since lost more than $15.7 billion dollars in revenue, a number that is almost unfathomable to most of us.
You’d think that this would be a cautionary tale about what the average folks in America want. You’d think this would stop marketing firms in the tracks before making a similar move.
You’d be wrong.
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It has people saying, “What on earth are they thinking?” as it happens again and again. That’s what this article is all about. What they’re thinking. Because “go woke, go broke” is not actually as clear-cut as we might think. The apparent suicide missions may not be quite as deadly as expected.
The conclusions in this article may not be popular. But when I begin researching to answer a question I’ve posed, I have an obligation to share my findings honestly, whether I like those findings or not.
Since the Bud Light fiasco, one company after another has followed suit.
Since that ill-considered partnership, it seems like huge companies are following Anheuser Busch off the exact same cliff in a mission of corporate suicide.
- Actually, it started before the Bud Light campaign. Notably, Hershey’s celebrated International Woman’s Day by putting a photo of a person who was not born a woman on a candy bar wrapper with a label that said Her/She.
- Calvin Klein, a company well known for suggestive ads featuring buff, sculpted models in provactive poses, changed course with an ad that appeared in 2022 but has recently resurfaced. This time, they advertised their bras and undergarments with a “pre-surgery” transgender person with a beard and breasts that had not yet been removed at the time of the shoot.
- Nike immediately partnered with Mulvaney, a biological male, to advertise sports bras and women’s athletic wear. Many women were outraged since this took away promotional opportunities for biological female athletes. As well, Mulvaney’s clip was far from athletic.
To be clear, I’m not picking on Mulvaney. The TikToker just happens to be the paid partner in more than one of these controversies. Most people who make a living as an influencer would accept a lucrative offer. I don’t endorse violence or hatred toward those who have made choices I don’t understand. It’s the offer itself with which I take issue.
- Miller, owned by Molson-Coors, quickly came into the spotlight after Anheuser Busch with an ad apologizing for using women in bikinis in previous advertising campaigns. This ad was actually aired in March, before the Bud Light fiasco. Molson-Coors claims the ad was satirical and stood behind their marketing person.
- Soon came an ad from Adidas featuring an unnamed, very obviously biological male model in a women’s swimsuit. The advertisement drew backlash for “erasing women” and resulted in an outcry for a “Bud Light moment,” referring to the beer boycott.
- Not to be outdone, North Face launched a campaign with a drag queen for their “summer of Pride” outdoor gear.
- Most recently, Target is taking fire for its Pride Month line-up. To be clear, Target has had a Pride Month marketing campaign for as long as I can remember, so the concept itself is not new nor is it directly related to the other campaigns. This year may have been a bridge too far with a unisex “tuck-friendly” swimsuit in adult sizes in a style usually worn by women and a line of Pride clothing for children, including a onesie for infants. Target has since moved the products out of their former front-and-center locations, citing employee safety concerns. The company lost 9 billion dollars in value in the span of a week.
What in the world is going on here?
Are all the companies losing money?
While Bud and Target have suffered losses in the billions, Rolling Stone assures us that actually, the woke do not go broke in this article. At the same time, other pundits say that these companies are taking a financial hit. The Street also says that the ESG crowd is losing money hand over fist. However, it’s important to note that the LBGT community accounts for 3.9 trillion dollars in retail revenue, making this a demographic to be reckoned with for marketing decisions.
Just because they aren’t going broke doesn’t mean that it’s what most folks want in their brands. Most of us just want to wear shoes, drink beer, and browse Joanna Gaines’s cute household stuff. We really don’t want moral lessons of tolerance along with our shopping.
However, the latest Rasmussen Report tells us that the majority of Americans are turned off by woke marketing.
…consumers view woke companies negatively for the following reasons :
1: Pandering. Companies feel the need to speak out about every social issue as they hit the headlines but this comes across as exploitation, shallow, and what is sometimes referred to as ‘virtue signaling’, which is received as being inauthentic.
2: A holier than thou attitude. Many people don’t want corporations to educate them on how to behave and live their lives. That’s a very personal thing ingrained in their value system. A preachy company selling butter can come across as patronising and condescending. Consumers just think, ‘who the hell are you?’
3: Misrepresentation. Don’t just replace your customer base in adverts to tick the boxes for diversity and inclusion (this is coming from an ethnic minority). It can feel forced and calculated when brands go out of their way to make sure every group of people is represented equally because in a non-discriminatory world you would expect to see a typical advert proportionally representing the population of a country, region or target audience.
But due to investment groups like BlackRock pushing agendas, you can expect to keep seeing these confounding advertising partnerships on your screens and in your stores.
A quick recap of CEI scores
CEI stands for Corporate Equality Index. The next two sections of this article are a recap from a previous article.
A company can receive up to 100 points in the CEI rating system. Here’s how those points are earned.
1. Workforce Protections (5 points possible)
- Policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity/gender identity or expression for all operations (5)
2. Inclusive Benefits (50 points possible)
To secure full credit for benefits criteria, each benefit must be available to all benefits-eligible U.S. employees. In areas where more than one health insurance plan is available, at least one inclusive plan must be available.
- Equivalency in same- and different-sex spousal medical and soft benefits (No points awarded)
- Equivalency in same- and different-sex domestic partner medical and soft benefits (10)
- Equivalency in spousal and domestic partner family formation benefits regardless of sex. (10)
- Equal health coverage for transgender individuals without exclusion for medically necessary care (25)
- LGBTQ+ Benefits Guide (5)
3. Supporting an Inclusive Culture (25 points possible)
a. Four LGBTQ+ Internal Training and Accountability Efforts (5)
Businesses must demonstrate a firm-wide, sustained and accountable commitment to diversity and cultural competency, including at least four of the following elements:
- New hire training clearly states that the nondiscrimination policy includes gender identity and sexual orientation and provides definitions or scenarios illustrating the policy for each
- Supervisors undergo training that includes gender identity and sexual orientation as discrete topics (may be part of a broader training), and provides definitions or scenarios illustrating the policy for each
- Integration of gender identity and sexual orientation in professional development, skills-based or other leadership training that includes elements of diversity and/or cultural competency
- Integration of intersectionality in professional development, skills-based, or other training (required)
- Senior management/executive performance measures include LGBTQ diversity metrics
b. One LGBTQ+ Data Collection Effort (5)
- Anonymous employee engagement or climate surveys conducted on an annual or biennial basis allow employees the option to identify as LGBTQ+
- Data collection forms that include employee race, ethnicity, gender, military and disability status — typically recorded as part of employee records — include optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Board (or other governing body) member demographic data collection include the option for individuals to report their sexual orientation and gender identity or self-identity as LGBTQ+
c. Transgender Inclusion Best Practices (5)
- Gender transition guidelines with supportive restroom, dress code and documentation guidance
- Implementation of the at least one (1) of the following policies or practices
- Trans-inclusive restroom/facilities policy
- Gender-neutral dress code
- Policies/procedures that allow for optional sharing of gender pronouns
d. Employee Group –OR– Diversity Council (10)
4. Corporate Social Responsibility (20 points possible)
a. Five Distinct Efforts of Outreach or Engagement to Broader LGBTQ+ Community (15)
Businesses must demonstrate ongoing LGBTQ+ specific engagement that extends across the firm, including at least five of the following:
- LGBTQ employee recruitment efforts with demonstrated reach of LGBTQ+ applicants (required documentation may include a short summary of the event or an estimation of the number of candidates reached)
- Supplier diversity program with demonstrated effort to include certified LGBTQ+ suppliers
- Marketing or advertising to LGBTQ consumers (e.g.: advertising with LGBTQ+ content, advertising in LGBTQ media or sponsoring LGBTQ organizations and events)
- Philanthropic support of at least one LGBTQ+ organization or event (e.g.: financial, in kind or pro bono support)
- Demonstrated public support for LGBTQ+ equality under the law through local, state or federal legislation or initiatives
b. LGBTQ+ Corporate Social Responsibility
Contractor/supplier non-discrimination standards AND Philanthropic Giving Guidelines (5)
4. Responsible citizenship (-25)
Employers will have 25 points deducted from their score for a large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent records. Scores on this criterion are based on information that has come to HRC’s attention related to topics including but not limited to: undue influence by a significant shareholder calculated to undermine a business’s employment policies or practices related to its LGBTQ employees; directing corporate charitable contributions to organizations whose primary mission includes advocacy against LGBTQ equality; opposing shareholder resolutions reasonably aimed at encouraging the adoption of inclusive workplace policies; revoking inclusive LGBTQ policies or practices; or engaging in proven practices that are contrary to the business’s written LGBTQ employment policies.
Now, let me be clear about my own opinions here before I go further. I’m not a conservative. I’m really rather ambivalent about people’s identities and orientations as long as it’s an issue for consenting adults. I know this differs from many in my audience, and I also support the rights of people to not engage in things that are an affront to their own religious or personal doctrines. That’s the beauty of America. (Well, it was, anyway.)
However, the above FORCES “public support” of something a person might not support at all. And I am NOT okay with that.
I’m very live-and-let-live, but I expect the same courtesy.
So why do corporations comply?
First of all, money.
The CEI is a lesser-known part of the burgeoning ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) “ethical investing” movement increasingly pushed by the country’s top three investment firms. ESG funds invest in companies that oppose fossil fuels, push for unionization, and stress racial and gender equity over merit in hiring and board selection.
As a result, some American CEOs are more concerned about pleasing BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street Bank — who are among the top shareholders of most American publicly-traded corporations (including Nike, Anheuser-Busch and Kate Spade) — than they are about irritating conservatives, numerous sources told The Post.
So investor money is more important than consumer money.
But that’s not all. Companies that don’t comply could lose everything.
“The big fund managers like BlackRock all embrace this ESG orthodoxy in how they apply pressure to top corporate management teams and boards and they determine, in many cases, executive compensation and bonuses and who gets re-elected or re-appointed to boards,” entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who is running for president as a Republican and authored “Woke Inc.: Inside America’s Social Justice Scam,” told The Post. “They can make it very difficult for you if you don’t abide by their agendas.”
In 2018, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who oversees assets worth $8.6 trillion and has been called the “face of ESG,” wrote a now-infamous letter to CEOs titled “A Sense of Purpose” that pushed a “new model of governance” in line with ESG values.
“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” Fink wrote. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Fink also let it be known “that if a company doesn’t engage with the community and have a sense of purpose “it will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.”
It’s not just about, “Go woke, go broke.” It’s about, “Don’t go woke, go under.”
The message is clear that if you don’t comply, you will be destroyed.
So…these companies, in fact, probably aren’t going to go broke.
The power of the boycott may not be what it once was. Cancel culture seems only truly to ruin a business if the liberals do it. There’s so much ESG investment money that our effect is somewhat limited.
But that doesn’t mean you should support businesses with which you vehemently disagree.
At this point, we still have choices. We don’t have to buy Nike footwear or drink Bud Light beer. We’re not required to shop at Target when we need cleaning supplies. We can put our money where our values are. However, we probably shouldn’t expect this to cause a change in the direction these companies are taking. What this does for people who choose not to spend money with these companies is it strengthens their independence. Folks who don’t want to support an agenda have no choice but to seek out other options. The free-est thing you can do is to walk away from things with which you disagree.
There’s a culture war afoot.
There is a war going on. It’s a culture war. Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves right or left politically are being put in positions we don’t like.
The language is heated. One side is accused of being fill-in-the-blank-phobic, hateful, extreme MAGA, and intolerant. The other side is deemed to be Satanist, perverted, hedonistic, regressive left, snowflakes, and ultra-feminist. You have to align with your “side” in an all-or-nothing way, or suddenly, you are called an insulting name.
It’s hard to imagine any place people could meet in the middle anymore when the very being of the “other side” is met with disgust and scorn. And that’s the least of it – we’re getting closer every day to violence. In fact, Target said that’s why they pulled their Pride displays – because of the safety of their workers. Folks have had enough, and that’s true for both sides. At some point, it won’t stop with words and boycotts.
I’ve often written about the power of the “people holding the microphones,” and this is no different. When the advertising, retail, media, and entertainment industries are all held hostage by CEI scores, we will watch our country continue to divide and devolve. A lot of folks are quietly saying no and I think this will grow.
You have to wonder what America is going to look like by the time a pendulum swing occurs. Will we even recognize it by then?
What are your thoughts on all of this? What are your thoughts on these advertising campaigns? Are you surprised that the boycotts have not halted this marketing trend in its tracks? Have you stopped supporting any brands? Do you feel investment groups and the CEI have more power than consumers? If so, what do you think can be done about it?
Article posted with permission from Daisy Luther