In the not too distant past, gay rights was such a controversial hot button that advertisers would scrupulously avoid the issue lest they alienate shoppers. As recently as two years ago, Target had earned the ire of same-sex marriage supporters by making a campaign contribution to a gay marriage opponent seeking the Minnesota governor's office. Now it seems the tide of public sentiment is changing as both Target and JCPenney have come out in support of gay marriage and parenthood.
Target is selling T-shirts to raise money for the Family Equality Council (FEC), which is working to defeat a gay marriage ban in Minnesota. The shirts, available on Target's web site for $12.99 through June, feature four designs including a Gwen Stefani-designed rainbow and cloud print emblazoned with the words "LOVE IS LOVE." The promotion is expected to garner up to $120,000, all of which will be donated to the FEC. The retailer has hedged its bets a bit by releasing a statement that acknowledges "a broad range of strongly held views" exists within its ranks.
For its part, JCPenney has been increasing diversity in its ad campaigns since Ron Johnson became CEO late last year. The mid-priced department store has not only brought the openly gay Ellen DeGeneres on as spokeswoman and run a Mother's Day print catalog ad that featured a lesbian couple with their children, but is now running a June catalog ad for Father's Day that highlights a real-life two-father family. Dads Cooper Smith and Todd Koch are shown playing with their 3-year-olds, Mason and Claire while the text reads, "First Pals - What makes Dad so cool? He's the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver - all rolled into one. Or two."
Not everyone is happy about this trend. "Target is attacking traditional marriage, which is an incredibly misguided thing for them to have done," Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, a group campaigning to pass the constitutional marriage amendment, told the AP. "It's an insult to the overwhelming majority of their customers." In addition, the group One Million Moms, an affiliate of the American Family Association, is urging people to boycott JCPenney and send catalogs back with "Refused…Return to Sender" written on them.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ME?
Though acceptance of the gay community is by no means universal, it is growing by leaps and bounds. So for both mainstream retailers, openly displaying support for gays and their families is a bit of a risk. Normally taking sides in a controversial issue would not be recommended for retailers looking to appeal to the most people possible, but for JCPenney (who has seen a $163 million loss in the first quarter due to its experimental "no coupon" marketing strategy) and for Target (who is headquartered in a state where the issue is top of mind), this may be a strategic, savvy move. The payoff could be considerable. By courting the LGBT community, the retailers are ensuring the loyalty of the nearly 12 million Americans who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual (according to the Williams Institute, University of California School of Law) as well as their supporters.