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Target latest on growing list of woke U.S. companies to misread customers, pay price

Americans generally seem to support LGBTQ+ rights but think corporate American has "gone too far with the trans agenda," says crisis management expert.

May 31, 2023 11:22pm

Updated: June 1, 2023 10:31am

Some of the country's biggest retailers and most recognizable brands have exposed themselves to another round of consumer backlash by hawking LGBT+ merchandise – after taking a clobbering from customers confounded by their banks making a priority of Environmental, Social, and Governance concerns when investing their money. 

The most recent fallout is over Target selling LGBT-themed products for children including clothing, books, and dog toys.

The media attention, threats to boycott – and even a rap song knocking the Minneapolis-based retailers merchandising ahead of Pride Month – has resulted in Target's stock shares plummeting. 

The company lost over $12 billion in market value in just over a week as a result.

The recent backlash over heartland brands appearing to have alienated long-time core customers began in earnest earlier this year when Bud Light entered into a paid partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Customers learned about the deal when Mulvaney posted a picture on social media in April of a can of Bud Light with the influencer's picture on it, along with a message celebrating the one-year anniversary of Mulvaney being a trans-woman.

Sales of the St. Louis-based, Anheuser-Busch beer have declined by more than a quarter since Mulvaney's Instagram post. And multiple Bud Light marketing executives were placed on leave amid the failed branding fallout. 

The company also reportedly told wholesalers that it will buy back unpurchased, expired beer cases.

In addition, the brewing company is planning a Bud Light-sponsored veterans group, and the brand will be promoted in commercials with football and country music themes.

"In the current environment in the social media landscape, you know that consumer brands in different situations might be pulled into the discussion," Anheuser-Busch CEO Michel Doukeris told The Wall Street Journal. "With one can, one post ... we saw how this grew."

Evan Nierman, the chief executive officer of the crisis management firm Red Banyan and author of The Cancel Culture Curse, told Just the News on Tuesday that "Bud Light should’ve been the cautionary tale."

He also called partnership an "unforced error" that "completely ignored its customer base."

Nierman said that instead of learning from Bud Light, "Target ran headlong into the same trap," and should have taken into account the debate on transgender rights and children, considering it's such a hot-button issue with parents.

He suggested Americans are generally supportive of LGBTQ rights, but for a large segment of the population "they felt it’s gone too far with the trans agenda and all the children now changing their pronouns and seeking permanent surgeries."

Other retailers that appeared to have recently fallen into the same trap include discount department store chain Kohl’s, which also reportedly has been selling LGBT+ pride clothing and products for infants and children; and outdoor gear company North Face, which recently released an ad with a drag queen wearing a rainbow-colored outfit with the company’s logo on it.

However, the backlash over the ad and the clothing items for children that matched the drag queen’s outfit has resulted in the company taking down the clothes from its website, according to archived webpages.

Disney has also faced backlash.

On Friday, a TikTok video was posted of Disneyland’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in which a male cast member was wearing drag as he welcomed girls to the boutique. A female cast member is also seen in the video wearing the same feminine costume.

"Disneyland used to have a brand – it was all about enmeshing you in a fantasy world with princes and princesses," The Daily Wire's The Ben Shapiro Show tweeted Tuesday. "Now you have to explain to your 4-year-old why this man with a mustache is wearing a dress and calling himself a fairy godmother. It's ridiculous."

The ESG movement involves investment strategies and corporate policies that promote green energy and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which includes advocating for the LGBT+ community.

Asset management firms BlackRock Fund AdvisorsJPMorgan Investment Management, and The Vanguard Group were all part of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, a coalition of ESG-minded money managers committed to channeling investment capital to firms working toward the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as outlined in the Paris Climate Accords.

BlackRock, the world's No. 1 asset manager with more than $9 trillion under management and a leading proponent of ESG investing, has come under sustained fire from Republicans over so-called "woke" capitalism in connection with its ESG practices. 

Vanguard withdrew from NZAM in December, with CEO Tim Buckley citing in part the firm's fiduciary responsibility to optimize returns for its clients, although it still offers ESG investments.

The companies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Shapiro, The Daily Wire's editor emeritus, tweeted Wednesday, "Why is corporate America, in lockstep, alienating a huge swath of the market by promoting radical gender ideology to small children? Because the ESG agenda is funded and promoted at the highest levels by Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street."

Said Nierman: "Given the reality, I think most companies are well advised on stocking products people want and less wading into the political issues of the day. Sometimes people want to go into a store without being confronted by politics – whether buying beer or a shirt."

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