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Retailers let their rainbow flags fly

July 2, 2014

While support for same-sex marriage has grown and the nation's courts strike down bans on those unions, perceived support for the "gay lifestyle" or "homosexual agenda" is still controversial among certain groups. Despite vocal opposition, a growing number of retailers are becoming more active in their support of gay pride events and related causes.

According to a study by Witeck-Combs Communications, via The Associated Press, the purchasing power of the U.S. gay and lesbian population grew from $610 billion in 2005 to $830 billion last year. A recent gay pride parade in Salt Lake City included corporate sponsors such as eBay, Starbucks and Macy's.

The department store chain was the target of an op-ed on The Christian Post website by Linda Harvey, author of Maybe He's Not Gay: Another View on Homosexuality. Ms. Harvey said Macy's support of "sex parades" contributes to the degradation of communities and "is an insult to American families."

Burger King is among the companies supporting gay pride events. The burger chain has debuted The Proud Whopper, which comes in a rainbow colored wrapper with the words, "We are all the same inside."

"It showcases who we are as a brand," Fernando Machado, senior vice president of global brand management at Burger King, told USA Today. "It shows how we, as a brand, believe in self-expression."

According to Pew Research, 54 percent of Americans support same-sex unions while 39 percent are opposed.

Discussion Questions:

Are companies such as Burger King, eBay, Macy's and Starbucks making the right business decision in sponsoring gay pride events? Should these companies engage in a dialogue with their critics on this issue?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Are companies such as Burger King, eBay, Macy’s and Starbucks making the right business decision in sponsoring gay pride events?


The reality is we as a society are moving to more inclusion and more openness, and Burger King's "we're all alike inside" message is right on trend.

Those who steadfastly refuse to budge on gay rights are in the minority. The battle is won, they just don't know it yet.

Any retailer looking to grow their business should embrace this type of marketing or be left behind.

Even Anita Bryant came to say, "I'm more inclined to say live and let live."

We're more alike than different, that's a lesson I took from my dad, a pioneer in civil rights during the '60s.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor


If this means making more money, that is all the dialog that needs to be discussed. Money will win the argument every time. As this personal lifestyle choice becomes more and more accepted, it only makes sense to let money flow to where there is a demand. This has gone from an "us vs. them" to just an "us and them." There will always be some businesses that will benefit by being perceived as being anti-gay, even though they really aren't. Again it is a financial decision—what makes us the most money.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Companies walk a fine line when they engage in politics. With the hardening of political positions, what seems supportive to one segment of consumers can be abhorrent to another. Retailers are in business to sell merchandise, not to anger people. Chick-fil-A alienated a large segment of consumers with their political stance. Why should retailers on the other side of the question do the same?

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Bob Phibbs has it totally right. They're doing the right thing on many levels. Lead by example; engaging in dialogue with critics is generally less than useless. It brings to mind a quote by George Bernard Shaw, "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Do they have a choice, really? With companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A staking out a position on the other side, companies kind of need to at least make a conscious decision about how they're going to play. Every brand these days seems to need a story and a lifestyle segment, and as soon as you get into "lifestyle" in the marketing sense you're going to run into the realities of life.

I know, personally, after some of these politics I realized that how companies treat their employees and how their executives speak to the market is important enough to me that it needs to be an active part of my research to confirm that I'm okay giving my business to a company, whereas before I only made the effort when it was blatantly public.

So I guess it becomes a vicious circle—the more that companies play politics, the more consumers prioritize politics in the companies they do business with. It's polarizing for sure, but unavoidable.

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Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

It is past the time to start accepting all people as one. No one's money is different or better than anyone else's. I applaud those corporations willing to step forward and support others' beliefs.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I've always believed that national and international companies should just stay out of the political and social movement discourse business and concentrate on product assortment and quality for all potential customers whose money, after all, is all green. I think that is even more true today. Fine—adjust assortments, offerings, and ad placements gingerly but as may be appropriate in more localized communities. But pandering is pandering and looks cheap and opportunistic no matter what the issue is, and most people recognize pandering for what it is when they see it.


Being on the side of justice is a smart business decision in today's environment of easy access to information. It's interesting to think about what may have happened had Crayola shown support for Ruby Bridges or Gillette thrown their brand behind Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter. For supporters of gay rights this is not a political issue, it's a human rights issue, end of story. That makes it difficult to engage with critics in any meaningful way. How would it benefit a company to publicly engage with someone who is of the opinion that certain groups of people are undeserving of basic human rights? What could you possibly say? "We at Macy's are sorry that you feel that way. Perhaps someday you'll understand."


Max Goldberg has it right. Taking sides on political and/or social issues can be a two-edged sword, and sometimes it happens that you fall on your sword. If the company feels so strongly that it has to announce its view on a current issue, so be it. But be prepared for consequences. How many times have political candidates been burned by something they said five or ten or twenty years previously? Supporting charities and civic events is one thing, getting into causes is another.

David Schulz, Contributing Editor, HomeWorld Business

Here's a rule of thumb for any large, consumer-facing company: Support diverse, positive, social causes more or less in proportion to their degree of representation in your customer base and employee population.

For large chains like those mentioned in this discussion, this is a pretty simple calculus for allocating CSR money and attention, but it does not mean that thoughtful decisions don't matter too. You can't back every worthy cause, charity or event, so choosiness is OK. If a Gay Pride event seems too raucous to jibe with other aspects of the brand image, there are other, quieter ways to go.

Smaller companies may struggle with this decision process, since dissimilar corporate social responsibility activities can add up. What's more important: instituting green product design and manufacturing; supporting charities to wipe out childhood cancers; or helping the homeless in your local community? Progress for the LGBT community is right up there too.

If you can't do it all it's OK—I think—for a company to choose one or two to focus on. Don't make it a command decision—get the associates involved. If possible ask your customers to weigh in. Embedding a "donate a dollar to one of these three causes" option into a checkout process is a way to get them express a preference. Or float the idea on social media and do a sentiment analysis. Let your decisions be inclusive, not exclusive, and you'll stand on firm ground with the overwhelming majority of folks.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Could anybody have said it better than Bob Phibbs?

But, let me add just one more thought. Supporting Gay rights, sends a very valuable message...whatever your color or stripe, we welcome you. We want you. And that is good business.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

Companies should embrace all cultures of the community. Political issues aside, it's common sense.

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Carlos Arámbula, Strategist, One Ninth & Co-founder of MarcasUSA, One Ninth, MarcasUSA LLC

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