Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Politics & GLBT Marketing

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind for supporters of gay and lesbian rights. Canada and Spain passed laws granting full rights of marriage to its gay citizens, and the United Church of Christ has endorsed same-sex marriage, making it the largest Christian denomination to do so.

What does that mean for brands looking to burn themselves into the minds of GLBT consumers? If they’re willing to take a stand, it means a lot. There’s no better way for a brand to say “we value you as a customer” than to first say “we value you as a person.”

Here are three recent examples, two good and one bad, of companies that have gotten involved in the public dialogue about gay rights and same-sex marriage:

On June 22nd, Nike, one of the world’s most recognizable shoe brands, announced its support of two Oregon GLBT civil rights bills: legislation to create civil unions and an antidiscrimination bill. Gay rights groups from the statewide Basic Rights Oregon to the national Human Rights Campaign publicly praised Nike in the media and to their tens of thousands of collective members for the company’s support of the legislation.

During last year’s elections, Pete Coors was running for one of Colorado’s seats in the US Senate on a conservative platform, including the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to limit marriage in this country to one man and one woman. In a show of support for its GLBT consumers, we suggested that Coors Brewing Co. announce publicly that they, as a company, do not support the Federal Marriage Amendment. The company, which has been battling misconceptions and untruths since the 1970s about its relationship with the GLBT community, was the only major U.S. company to do so. From a marketing and public relations perspective, it gave us another opportunity to showcase the Coors Brewing Co.’s decades-long allegiance to its gay and lesbian consumers.

Unfortunately, not all companies have been so wise when wading into the political waters. Microsoft flip-flopped on a gay rights bill up for a vote earlier this year in the Washington State Legislature. First, the company publicly supported the bill. Then, after a meeting with a Seattle evangelist who threatened a national boycott, the company withdrew its support of the legislation. The bill lost by a single vote in the state’s Senate (the House had already passed it). A few weeks later, Microsoft did an about-face and said that it would publicly support similar future legislation, but not before its image was bruised in the eyes of gay consumers.