During every Pride month in June for the past decade, Target has sold merchandise for LGBTQ customers, employees and allies. But this year, Target faced an anti-LGBTQ campaign that went viral on social media.
Fueled by far-right figures and on social media platforms, the anti-trans campaign spread misleading information about the company’s Pride Month products and its business practices.
Hurting the brands’ sales and reputations was the stated goal of the campaign: “The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic to brands,” right-wing commentator Matt Walsh said in I tweet. “If they decide to throw this garbage in their faces, they should know that they will pay a price. It’s not going to be worth whatever they think they’re going to win.”
The campaign turned hostile, with threats against Target employees and instances of damaged products and in-store displays.
This effectively held the target hostage: The company was forced to make an impossible choice to either protect its employees and stores or continue to support customers who wanted to buy the products it sold.
In the end, Target chose to protect employee safety by removing some items it said caused the most “volatile” reaction from opponents.
But Target’s response angered LGBTQ advocates and led to criticism that it was pandering to extreme elements of American society.
“Target needs to put products back on the shelves and ensure their Pride displays are visible on the floor, not shoved in the proverbial closet. That’s what bullies want,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group. “The goal should be better.”
Like Bud Light before it, Target ended up alienating almost everyone in the process with its response.
Target became the focus of anti-LGBT campaign outrage over Pride Month merchandise, but the campaign misrepresented Target’s ambitions.
Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, was selling Pride-themed merchandise to customers who wanted to buy it. It’s capitalism and ultimately a business decision in the interest of enriching Target shareholders.
Yoram Wind, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said Target was trying to reach a growing LGBTQ market of customers and employees. About 7% of Americans identified as LGBT in 2021, according to Gallup, up from 3.5% in 2012.
“It’s helping us drive sales, it’s building greater engagement with both our teams and our guests, and those are the right things for our business today,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told Fortune last month about the diversity initiatives. and company involvement.
The campaign made other false claims, including that Target was marketing a product for transgender adults to children. Target sold a women’s swimsuit that was described as “friendly” for its ability to hide male genitalia. The bathing suit was only available for adults, according to screenshots of the items taken when they were available online.
Opponents also pointed to Target products made by trans designer Erik Carnell, who has designed merchandise with images of horned skulls and symbols of Satan. Target did not sell any of these products. For Target, the British designer said on Instagram that he created a bag, underwear and sweatshirt for adults with messages such as “We belong everywhere”, “Too weird for here” and “Cure transphobia”. Misinformation spread that his Target collection was for children.
These products were just a small portion of the nearly 2,000 in Target’s Pride Month collection, including shirts, coffee mugs and stationary.
Target on Wednesday said in a statement that it was removing “items that have been the focus of the most significant confrontational behavior.” The company said it had experienced threats that affected employees’ sense of security and well-being.
The company told the Wall Street Journal that people have confronted workers in stores, toppled displays of Pride merchandise and posted threatening social media posts with videos from inside stores.
“Our focus now is to move forward with our continued commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and stand with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year,” Target said in its statement.
But Target’s response has frustrated gay and transgender rights supporters, who argued the company bowed to bigoted pressure.
“Target CEO Brian Cornell selling out the LGBTQ+ community to extremists is a true profile of courage,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the advocacy group GLAAD, said corporate leaders need to step up for their LGBTQ employees and consumers and “not bow to pressure from activists who call for censorship.”
More brands are caught up in cultural issues in part because of social media.
“It’s always been best practice for me for brands to stay away from super controversial issues that aren’t directly related to their business,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “The problem is that today there are many issues that are controversial.”
The campaign against Target comes amid a record number of anti-LBGT bills introduced in state houses this year and escalating political attacks on transgender people by leading Republican presidential candidates.
Companies such as Bud Light and Nike have also been targeted for promotional campaigns featuring transgender people.
Disney is also caught in a protracted battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, stemming from legislation he signed that prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”
And the Los Angeles Dodgers this week also reversed course and extended a new invitation to a group of creeps after previously disinviting them from the team’s upcoming Pride Night at Dodger Stadium.
Although Target was acting to protect employees, some corporate marketing experts say the company’s response could encourage opponents of gay and transgender rights to target other brands.
They questioned why Target couldn’t try other solutions, such as increasing store security or trying to educate customers and employees, before pulling the products altogether.
“It sounds like you’re falling for a bully,” said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business. “It sets a dangerous precedent.”
Leave a Reply