(This article was originally published by Alexander Haldemann on June 6, 2014 in The Huffington Post)
Heineken. Sam Adams. Mozilla Firefox. Chick-fil-A. Barilla Pasta. General Mills. All of these major brands have recently been in the crossfire of gay rights finding they had to pick a side — either for equality, or not.
Although many brands support LGBT causes without pressure from the public, many do not. Why? Decisions about taking a side on equality often have to do with straight-forward number crunching. After all, taking a stand on gay rights — whether it’s marriage equality, sponsoring inclusive or non-inclusive events, providing gay employees with equal benefits or not — puts brands at risk of boycotts and bad press from either side.
Because of this, many brands would love to stay neutral and play both sides of the fence. For instance, while major brands like Guinness, Sam Adams and Heineken dropped out of sponsoring the non-inclusive Boston and New York St. Patrick’s Day Parades because of pressure from gay rights groups, protest from gay consumers and bad press, Ford decided to play both sides. Ford said in a statement, “No one person, group or event reflects Ford’s views on every issue. What we can tell you is that Ford is proud of its inclusive policies.” In other words, they were trying to stay neutral.
So very often a brand has to be pushed in the right direction. But it doesn’t necessarily take a big organization to do so. Boston bar Club Café helped get the ball rolling on pushing Sam Adams’ producer, Boston Beer, to withdraw support from the city’s non-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade simply by writing an open letter to the brand on the bar’s Facebook page announcing that they would no longer sell the product. Losing sales in one bar would not affect Boston Beer in any significant way. However, the letter on Club Café’s Facebook page was shared by thousands of people, reported on in the media and eventually read by the decision makers at Boston Beer. So it wasn’t the loss of sales from one bar that pushed the beer company in the right direction, it was the public pressure that average members of the LGBT community exerted using social media.
With that in mind, here are three things you can do to help brands support equality.
- Write an open letter to the brand on your Facebook page or film one and put it on YouTube and ask your friends to share: putting a face to the LGBT individual’s struggle for equality can be as powerful as the force of a large organization. When your friends share it, you help create a grassroots movement of your own. And you don’t have to have a lot of people on board for it to make noise — it’s the symbol that counts, not numbers.
- Send a copy of and a link to your letter or video to the media. These days most reporters have their email addresses next to their bylines so it can be quite easy to reach them. And if they think your protest is a story and report on it, you can be certain the brand is going to hear about it.
- Comment on the brand’s social media channels: believe me, decision makers at brands are paying attention to what consumers are saying on their various channels. If the brand is being portrayed as not doing good by not supporting LGBT equality, and if gay consumers are giving negative feedback, they will be under pressure to reconsider their position.
The power an average gay consumer like you can exercise on a brand’s policies towards equality is unique to today’s environment. One reason is that brands are under great pressure today not just to be good but to do good. In addition, whereas communication from brands to consumers used to be a monologue from the brand to the public via advertising and publicity, social media has made it a dialogue… a public dialogue. This gives people like you the ability to reach decision makers at big brands directly, and in a public forum.
Because of this, big brands today regularly choose to side with equality in large part because of pressure from average members of the LGBT community — because people like you helped push them in the right direction. So when you see a brand in the news that is in the crossfire of gay rights and trying to stay neutral, remember that you don’t have to stay neutral.
Originally published in the Huffington Post, June 6, 2014. Available here.
Follow MetaDesign CEO Dr. Alexander Haldemann on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/haldemann