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Can Corporate Giants Address Progressive Audiences Without Alienating Their Conservative Customers?

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

As it does every year, Macy's will hold its iconic Thanksgiving parade in New York City on November 23. However, some people are trying to boycott the classic celebration; one group is planning a protest over the inclusion of two non-binary performers, Alex Newell –a Tony Award-winning performer– and Justin David Sullivan, who plays May in the Broadway musical "& Juliet."

According to an article published in The New York Times, this particular situation sheds light on a series of similar protests that have been unfolding over the past few months. Even in progressive cities like New York, companies and corporate giants are faced with an increasingly uncomfortable question: Can you market to younger and more inclusive audiences without alienating more conservative customers?

This is an issue New York University faculty and Jennifer Maloney, a reporter covering the beverage industry for The Wall Street Journal, addressed after Macy's potential boycott and the controversy faced by Budweiser and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch.

In the NYT piece, Jed Bernstein, an NYU faculty member, stated:

"Brands are acutely aware that storm clouds can gather very quickly [thanks to the power and reach of social media]."

Asking this question is also helpful in the analysis of Budweiser's controversy. A few months ago, the beer company featured Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer, in one of their Bud Light social media campaigns and conservative consumers called for a boycott of the brand. In response, Anheuser-Busch placed two of its marketing executives on leave, which led to backlash from the LGBTQ+ community.

Similarly, Target was forced to rethink its approach to inclusive marketing after facing criticism from the right for its Pride collection, which included clothes and children’s books.

These controversies present a difficult question for large national brands that don’t have niche audiences and seek to target new customers through campaigns that emphasize diversity and inclusion.

In a WSJ’s podcast, Maloney summed up the dilemma for corporate giants: “I think it remains to be seen whether you can have a brand that is for everyone.”

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