Yes, Businesses Really Can Stay Neutral in the Culture Wars
On May 29, in the midst of the growing boycott against Target, I tweeted, “Note to businesses: Christian conservatives are not asking you to put Bibles in your stores or quote scriptures on your websites. We’re just asking you to stay neutral on the culture wars, or, at least, not to shove an activist agenda in our faces. Is that too much to ask?”
In response, a self-described “freed thinker” tweeted, “Does selling LGBTQ+ clothing ‘force’ it on you? I never walked into a Pacific Sunwear and thought “damn you PacSun for forcing the beach life on me!!!!”
That, of course, was to miss the point of my tweet. As Susan M. rightly noted, “It goes beyond us being forced to see it front and center on Pride month. It has become a part of Target’s identity, ‘values’, and political agenda donations. They impact the culture and not every shopper wants to pitch in to that anymore now that’s it’s clear. Hence the boycott.”
The fact is that it’s not difficult for companies to remain neutral on the culture wars, focusing on the products they sell or the services they offer rather than emphasizing their cultural and political leanings.
It’s one thing if the services or products are specifically related to a particular agenda or set of values. No one is disputing that.
A Christian bookstore is expected to sell Bibles and Christian books and materials, just as a Planned Parenthood clinic is expected to provide abortion-related services.
This is who they each are, for better or for worse, and you don’t go into a Christian bookstore seeking to buy a Quran just as you don’t go into a Planned Parenthood clinic looking for gospel sermons.
Merchants Generally Have More Customers When They Stay Politically Neutral
But when it comes to general products and services, when you go to the gas station you’re looking to buy gas and when you go into a coffee shop you’re looking to buy coffee. That’s why you would be surprised to see a national chain post pictures of their favorite political candidate in all their stores across the country. That would be way too divisive, associating the company with a party and a candidate rather than with their product or brand.
This is pretty simple.
That’s why certain entertainers or athletes who are very toxic and divisive are not chosen as sponsors or public faces for large companies. It would hurt the company’s image.
Instead, they want you to think about the great things their company has to offer you rather than the controversial social or political positions their leadership might espouse.
Some companies, like Ben and Jerry’s, have been activist out of the gate, which is their prerogative, just as Chick-fil-A decided to close their stores on Sundays to honor the Lord. Customers can make their choices accordingly.
But when you think of Wal-Mart, you don’t think Democrat or Republican and you don’t think pro-LGBTQ++ or anti-LGBTQ++. You just think Wal-Mart.
What Do You Think of When You Think of Bud Light?
In the same way, in the past, when you thought about Bud Light, that’s what you thought about: the beer.
But that’s not what millions of Americans are thinking about today.
Instead, they now think of transgender activism. Drinking Bud now means supporting a highly-divisive agenda.
Last week, Bud Light announced a new ad campaign aimed at boosting their dramatically slumping sales. The 60-second ad emphasized how appealing their beer was during the heat of summer. Now is the perfect time to enjoy a cold Bud!
Had the company done this from the start, they would not have lost tens of billions of dollars.
A Wake-Up Call to Marketers to be Humble
In the words of the company’s top marketing executive, Marcel Marcondes, “When things get divisive and controversial so easily, I think it’s an important wake-up call to all of us marketers to be very humble.”
Yes, be very humble and push your product rather than a controversial social agenda.
Even as I was writing this article, I spotted this breaking news: “Google is backing away from a company-promoted Pride Month drag performance after a group of employees complained it was anti-Christian.”
Why go out of your way to offend large portions of your constituency?
Obviously, there are many other ways in which companies express their particular values and priorities. Do they donate to pro-life clinics or pro-abortion clinics? Or neither? Or both? What are their policies on transgender issues, including the use of preferred gender pronouns and bathroom access?
They Didn’t Have to Push a Divisive Message
On some level, given the highly divisive climate in which we live today, most companies will lean one way or the other when it comes to donations and policies. But those decisions are often more internal than external, and when it comes to national branding and advertising, they often stay neutral on the culture wars.
Even the openly Christian owners of Chick-fil-A do not push a Christian agenda in their advertising. Instead, they push chicken, and people flock to their stores because they enjoy the food and the service.
In contrast, Target advertised bathing suits made specifically for trans-identified people, which even Joe Rogan said was “weird.” And Bud made a biological male into their everyday poster girl.
The fact is, it’s quite easy for these big companies to stay neutral when it comes to the culture wars. It takes a conscious decision, based on a very clear agenda, to do otherwise. Are they getting the message now?
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.