Levi’s Wears White in Support of Same-Sex Marriage

Discussion
May 28, 2009

By George
Anderson

Levi Strauss
has a history supporting gay rights and the current merchandising in company-owned
stores visually demonstrates that fact.

Mannequins
in stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are wearing
white in recognition that Memorial Day has passed. They are also sporting
White Knots, a white ribbon tied in a knot that serves as a symbol
demonstrating support for same-sex marriage.

Celebrities
such as Ann Hathaway and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been seen
wearing White Knots at public events.

Rene Holguin, senior
vice president for global creative services for Levi’s, told The New
York Times
, “Our design team was seeking something that would
resonate beyond just fashion but also fit with our white product theme.”

Erica Archambault,
Levi’s director of brand marketing and public relations, added, “We
always try to connect to the energy and events of our time… A lot of
people are rallying around marriage equality and fighting for that and
so many individuals within our company feel so strongly about it.”

The company has communicated
with store managers and associates to educate them on Levi’s position and
the White Knot organization so they can discuss it intelligently with shoppers
who may have questions.

Discussion Question:
Do you see Levi’s White Knot
merchandising program as a positive or negative for the company’s image
and sales? What are your thoughts on other retailers taking sides on controversial
issues?

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22 Comments on "Levi’s Wears White in Support of Same-Sex Marriage"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Smart. Those who know what it means will like it; the rest won’t know.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Same sex marriage is a divisive issue in America. Corporations should tread lightly when approaching it. While I agree with the position that Levi’s is taking on this issue, one has to ask why a company that sells products throughout the US would court the possibility of turning off 50% of its potential and current customers.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
11 years 11 months ago

Fortunately there are other brands of denim to purchase so that we as consumers have a choice if we do not approve of their active support.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

White knot for same sex marriages is not like a pink for breast cancer. This looks like a real risky position that has a major potential to backfire. Risk is good if you are willing to deal with the potential losses. How big is the potential win versus the potential losses? In this case, the losses look bigger than the gain to me. It’ll be interesting to see where this program is 6 months from now.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

I have to agree with both Messrs. Goldberg and Kleiman. This is an issue that can alienate a large percentage of Levi’s customers. No matter which side of the issue you personally support, the question is, is it good business?

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
11 years 11 months ago
It’s a brilliant move and done for all the right reasons. You are absolutely right that Levi’s has a long history of supporting gays and gay rights. It takes them very seriously. I worked there for four years. At a company Christmas party, the husband of a colleague made some comments to me that were homophobic. I related them to a colleague that night, after about five gin and tonics, gossiping, without thinking twice about it. Two days later, the “campus” was inundated with letters from the president of Levi’s, Bob Haas, announcing that some homophobic remarks had been made at the party and that anyone guilty of making remarks of that sort (however “innocent”) would be terminated from the company. Unbeknownst to me, I had become a cause celebre at the gay and lesbian organization. I felt kind of silly but was amazed at how serious Haas took the subject. Yes, Levi’s supports gay rights and millions of gays around the country support Levi’s. Levi’s has a long history of trying to do the… Read more »
Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 11 months ago

I would say that a large chunk of Levi’s customers would appreciate and embrace this campaign. I’m not saying stirring the pot is a way to gain customers but Levi’s needs some sort of splash and this qualifies as making a splash. There is some sense in saying you could alienate some of your customers but I think the number of happy current customers and new customers would far outweigh the alienated ones.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
11 years 11 months ago

In the end, Levi’s will be known for having stood up for what’s right when it was risky, even dangerous. A minute ago I thought about suggesting they do this on a location-aware basis–do it only where the issue is sympathetic. But that’s cowardly. Our parents thought interracial marriage was a serious problem, and it took The Jeffersons on television to cross that bridge. Go, Levi’s!

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 11 months ago

Just a practical comment here (not intended as a social or marketing statement). I’m afraid we’re going to run out of cause ribbon colors soon.

Edward Herrera
Guest
Edward Herrera
11 years 11 months ago

I think with today’s access to media and information most people will know what cause the white knot is supporting. I support marriage regardless of situation but I think this will ultimately become a retail case study for a bolder type of Cause Marketing. In a free sales market, consumers will ultimately be the judge and jury on how it affects, if at all, their purchase behavior.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Follow the money. Those who support gay marriage have a lot of disposable income. Others who oppose gay marriage have loud voices. It is not clear [whether or not] they also have big wallets. Regardless, I applaud Levi’s decision.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Most people have no clue what it means and don’t care one way or the other. It reminds me when I was in college 30 years ago and we would have “gay jeans” day. You were supposed to wear blue jeans on a certain day to show your support for gay rights, according to an ad taken out in the student newspaper. As an 18 year old freshman I was terrified because all I had to wear were jeans. I quickly learned that everybody wears jeans no matter what and in no way is anyone making any kind of political statement by doing so. So wearing a white knot means nothing. If someone is wearing a white knot or displaying it in a window, associating it with gay issues might be a stretch and just coincidence.

Michael Boze
Guest
Michael Boze
11 years 11 months ago

I am not sure if this promotion ties into their product or customer base. It may fit the corporate culture of the organization. When a business steps out for such a cause they need to evaluate the opinions and anticipate the reactions of the stakeholders, ownership/stockholders, management and customers. If the unintended consequences are unacceptable then they should act as individuals in their beliefs and not as a commercial entity.

Steven Collinsworth
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

“All the right reasons” This is a matter of opinion, and with whom you are talking. “Those who know what it means will like it; the rest won’t know.” Doubtful, once the campaign kicks off it will be everywhere on the internet in a matter of hours. “From a marketing perspective, it’s textbook. Know your brand and what it stands for.” Reflecting on this statement will tell you this is what the Levi’s Brand stands for? Not sure about that, but it could become synonymous. “So wearing a white knot means nothing.” It will now for those for and against.

Just as it is okay for Levi’s to support causes they believe in, it is okay for the consuming public to vote with their dollars. If a company supports something I cannot rationalize and assimilate into my belief system then I will have to find another source for the product.

Sara DeBerry
Guest
Sara DeBerry
11 years 11 months ago
Were Levi’s to roll this initiative out to all of their stores nationwide, I could easily see it having an immediate negative effect on sales and long-term perception. However, Levi’s is only partially adopting this cause by limiting the exposure to major metropolitan areas. Since these cities have a much higher percentage of liberals (and Gay Rights activists), Levi’s is not running a great risk of alienating their more conservative consumers and, instead, is making their brand more approachable and personal to a demographic that they have traditionally struggled with. Those targeted with this initiative lean more towards vanity items, and they are still spending in a time when others are putting off non-essential purchases. Levi’s is perceived as a basic denim brand and is not sought out by these consumers; they are looking at labels and trends. By openly embracing such a controversial issue and taking a stand, Levi’s has ramped up their brand awareness among this segment and has undoubtedly established an emotional connection with the brand, therefore, winning business. Amongst activists, wearing… Read more »
Megan Huff
Guest
Megan Huff
11 years 11 months ago

I agree with Morse. Levi’s has historically been a company that embraces diversity and change, and is a well known supporter of equal rights (they were one of the first U.S. companies to offer equal rights to domestic partners). The white ribbon merchandising program will help strengthen the brand image because it ties in well with the values of their core customers.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 11 months ago

Given the demographics of the company’s customers–or more particularly, what I imagine the demographics to be–this may be a smart move, marketing-wise; (of course to suggest this tends to negate the whole idea that they’re taking a “courageous” stand, or doing what’s “right.”) But ultimately I have to side with those who are saying–albeit more politely–MYOB (literally): certainly there are situations where companies are directly affected by–and can directly affect–social issues (Woolworths integrating its lunch counters, or Wal-Mart boycotting a sweatshop are examples that come to mind), but I don’t see a parallel here…organizations should put their products on display, not the personal beliefs of (some of) their management.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
11 years 11 months ago
When it comes to LGBT marketing, doing “what’s right” is of critical importance, and this is a segment that Levi’s has identified to be of strategic merit. Having gay-friendly policies, supporting gay issues, having domestic partner benefits are what gays look at in deciding how to spend their dollars. These are monitored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) which gives ratings to companies based on a combination of these factors. LGBT consumers take these results seriously, and many companies actively work with this organization, and others, to ensure their house is in order. When a company makes a decision to support LGBT causes, it is fully aware (usually) that they face potential backlash from right wing organizations. That’s why it’s so important to gays. Most companies make a strategic decision to take the heat from these folks, while hoping to garner the support of the LGBT community. It’s important to recognize just how important the California Supreme Court decision is to gays. A slight majority of Californians (52%) decided that marriage should be between a… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 11 months ago

Levi’s White Knot merchandising program is in line with the company’s stance on gay rights issues. What Levi’s has done is to adopt a corporate stance on the issue and then take steps to educate and inform consumers about the brand’s stance. Some consumers will like it, others will not. I’m sure Levi’s is well aware of any potential backlash and is quite willing to weather any potential storm. Levi’s, like every retailer, is free to decide for itself which social issues best suit its operation and how to inform consumers about such.

Brad Ellman
Guest
Brad Ellman
11 years 11 months ago

It will be interesting to see if the anti-same-sex-marriage sentiment will be strong enough to tip the controversy bump. Retail history shows that any controversy typically brings attention and sales. A short term bump would seem inevitable. Long term effect is not clear yet in this economy.

Gregory Belkin
Guest
Gregory Belkin
11 years 11 months ago

I also agree with Levi’s position, and the concept of “following the money” as Paula mentions above. Where I get concerned is the possibility of turning such a large potential sales base away from brand. As mentioned, the issue of Gay Marriage is a divisive issue and I think people of all financial backgrounds come at it with different positions. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for a company to make an official branding/merchandising “statement” on a political issue…they can be in favor of it, but to throw marketing dollars at it is, in my opinion, an error.

Rick Boretsky
Guest
Rick Boretsky
11 years 11 months ago

Do you think their motivation is about winning customers? Levi’s feels passionate about this issue and wants to take a public stance on it. That is a good thing. Everyone has different causes they believe in and Levi’s is at least trying to take a public position and not trying to hide behind some facade. It shows integrity, honesty, and a real personal face to the company. Lose a few customers, gain a few customers, who cares? Follow what you believe is an important cause, that will go a lot further towards the type of company you want to be.

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