With corporate America increasingly in the tank for liberal causes, conservatives may finally be learning how to fight back. I base this hopeful observation on two developments described by Lance Wray, the Executive Director of 2ndVote, a conservative watchdog for corporate activism.
Consider first what happened with Lands’ End, the clothing retailer. Under CEO Federica Marchionni, it indulged in what Wray describes as a bizarre attempt to celebrate a company’s ethos by aligning with social activism:
Marchionni introduced a new “Legends Series” feature in the spring edition of the iconic Lands’ End catalog with an interview of Gloria Steinem as “(someone who) made a difference.” The interview also launched an initiative to fund an organization related to Steinem by passing along a portion of the monogramming fees from any item ordered with Steinem’s ERA Coalition logo.
Bad idea. As Mark Cohen, the former CEO of Sears Canada, put it “You don’t inject. . .the social conscience of Gloria Steinem into a mainstream brand like Lands’ End without running a real risk of brand abuse.”
Wray adds: “This is especially true when your business is known for supplying uniforms to private schools, of which many are faith-based.”
Lands’ End did, in fact, lose some of these orders. As sales lagged and the stock price fell, the Steinem interview, along with any links to the fundraising initiative, disappeared from the company’s website.
As for Marchionni, she resigned at the beginning of this month.
The second example is Target. According to Wray, it has taken a beating on the heels of a March announcement that promoted an all-comers bathroom and changing room policy — an expression of solidarity with the current policy goals of liberal LGBT activists. With sales lagging, Target recently announced the departure of its e-commerce director.
The lagging sales are no coincidence. According to Wray, 1.42 million people signed the American Family Association’s boycott pledge.
Target has steadfastly defended its bathroom and changing room policy. But now it appears to be seeking an accommodation. Wray notes that in August it announced a $20 million plan to install family friendly, single-stall bathroom facilities. Whether this gesture of accommodation will win back customers remains to be seen. Noting Target’s partnership with liberal organizations like Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT advocates, Wray is skeptical.
Either way, Wray concludes, the developments with Target and Lands’ End indicate that conservatives may actually be voting with their dollars, and that such voting matters. My guess is that this sort of economic backlash will be key to preventing conservatism from being routed during a Hillary Clinton presidency.