In this Age of Infinite Market Research – That Results From The Limitless Demographics, Data, & Consumer Behavior Pulled from Facebook, That of Instantaneous Customer Service & Corporate Feedback Demanded On Twitter – Many, Myself Included, Have Come to Advocate the Growing Need to Custom Tailor Marketing Tactics, Advertising Strategies, and the Like, to Increasingly Niche Audiences & Interest Groups – Microtargeting to the Highest Possible Degree – As the Way to Best Utilize the Insane Amount of Emerging Media at our Disposal.

One Brand Can Build A Bland, Uniform, Ad Template – Yet – When That Ad Reaches My Eyes – It Will Be Significantly Different Than The Ad Served To My Neighbors, Coworkers, Family & Friends. The Message Suits My Desires, My Behaviors, My Media of Choice – That’s Where we are.

Yet, there are times when big brands should NOT follow this paradigm – times when they should blatantly disregard a consumer advocacy group’s pleas. Case in point:

Today, BrandWeek Reported “AFA Calls for Gap Boycott

The story reads as follows:

The American Family Association is calling on consumers to boycott Gap Inc. and its brands, which include Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, this holiday season. The Christian organization alleges that the retailer’s ads censor the word “Christmas.”

The boycott, according to the AFA, is in response to Gap’s holiday advertising and in-store promotions over the years, which have stayed away from recognizing any specific religion. The AFA—which had boycotted other retailers like Sears and Target in the past for their holiday ads—claims the San Francisco-based Gap has “received thousands of consumer requests to recognize Christmas.” But Gap has continued with its neutral standpoint.

“The Gap is censoring the word Christmas, pure and simple. Yet the company wants all the people who celebrate Christmas to do their shopping at its stores? Until Gap proves it recognizes Christmas by using it in their newspaper, radio, television advertising or in-store signage, the boycott will be promoted,” the AFA said in a statement.

The boycott is running from Nov. 1 through Christmas Day, and the AFA is urging consumers to sign a Gap pledge on its site. Gap was not available for comment at press time.

The ads in question this year are part of Gap’s “Cheer Factory” campaign, via Crispin Porter + Bogusky. TV ads feature a group of male and female cheerleaders donning Gap apparel and calling out the different holidays that are celebrated this season (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza). There is also a viral piece, which allows consumers to create personalized holiday cards at The site, like the TV ad, takes a religion-neutral approach and offers cheers such as “Happy Whateveryouwannakah” and “Mo’ Mistletoe.”

This is a developing story and will be updated soon.

This is just ridiculous. I’m not a huge fan of the brand(s) in question, but they can’t cater their messaging to accommodate everyone specific tastes. If they mention Christmas, then they also have to include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa right? And what about those Pagans celebrating the Winter Solstice? Don’t the deserve recognition too? And the Atheists and Agnostics who are participating in the Seasonal Gift Giving Spirit but without any religious motivation to do so – should the ads celebrate their beliefs too?

And if Gap did do all this – they’d just end up with some other self-righteous organization breathing down their necks for recognizing the concept of religion at all. Sorry but the AFA are a bunch of idiots and while I don’t care for Gap, Old Navy, or Banana Republic – I REALLY Hope they don’t cave. Doing so would set such a bad precedent – every brand will be flooded by complaints (as if they aren’t already) to the point that next year’s thanksgiving ads will end up being directed to the Australian-American Jedi Knight Association or the AAJKA. Ridiculous.

What do you think? How Should They React, If They Respond At All? Can Brands Really Be Expected To Simultaneously Cater To Multiple, Potentially Conflicting, Ideologies? Should They Continue Their TV Spots as Planned & But Tailor Facebook Ads To Reflect The Religious Views Noted In The Consumer’s Profile?

  1. Great post! It’s ridiculous to think a brand can make everyone in the world happy…and while I don’t really care for these brand either, I think they took the correct path by being religion-neutral in the first place. Not everyone in America celebrates Christmas. I’ve had numerous friends who celebrate other holidays and I don’t think they should be excluded from holiday ads! America is a huge melting pot and the AFA needs to realize the world doesn’t revolve around them. I’m Christian, I celebrate Christmas, and yet I say “Happy Holidays” to people I don’t know (in stores, when I used to waitress, etc.) because I don’t want to offend anyone by assuming they celebrate Christmas. I really hope the Gap doesn’t cave either…

  2. Remember the episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where Dr. Johnny Fever wanted to stand up against a right-wing organization that hoped to get a few songs off the station’s playlist? (That’s the episode where Les Nessman wore a bandage.)

    Quick synopsis – they started with one song, then a few songs, then a list of songs. When Big Guy presented the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the organization said “No, can’t play it,” then the station balked.

    I’m a Christian, so of course I want to see the “Christ” in Christmas. But I also understand that it’s holiday shopping, not just Christmas shopping. And I’m a realist — the surefire way to fail is to try to please everyone.

    • Aerocles says:

      There was a sign in my the barbershop where I grew up – “He Who Trims Himself To Suit Everyone Will Soon Whittle Himself Away.”
      Still Holds True…

  3. Great post as always… had to read this one twice though! “And what about those Pagans celebrating the Winter Solstice? Don’t the deserve recognition too?” — funny man, love it.

    Topically though, i dont think brands can nor should please everyone… it will dilute the impact of the message, it just has to. it’s not wrong to target select influencers and population segments, that’s just smart business.

    However, it’s always a tricky to straddle the line of targeted strategies and those that exclude others. Inclusion, if done wrong, can always have that tinge of ‘exclusiveness’ which is usually not good business.


    • Aerocles says:

      I think it depends on the medium used – people’s expectations from an ad have to be aligned with the medium though which they’re receiving it. On TV – The best we can do is make assumptions about people’s interests based on the nature of the show or network, and maybe a little geotargeting. With Facebook and Social Networks – Additional Data is available – and should be used.

  4. jeffespo says:

    Great post. I saw the Brandweek piece earlier today and was wondering when someone would give their take on it – glad it was you. Granted we are in a day and age where beands need to listen and communicate with their constituents. With that comes irrational and rational folks on the other end of the Tweet, comment, posting, etc.

    It can get heated on both ends with the company keeping an even keel. This decree from the fanatical group is nothing more than a “look at me” type of moment that has gained them notoriety in the past. I would also wonder if these folks would respond to any kind of messages from actual consumers or people that their group represents. As a Catholic, I could care less if a company used Christmas in their ad. If I need a cheap sweater, you can bet your sweet ass a GAP sale would entice me.

    PC is not so PC after all as demographics are painted with a wide brush. So its either take it for what it is, or go somewhere else.

    • Aerocles says:

      Exactly. I think gaps consumer base is so wide they shouldn’t be feeling any pressure to give in hear and like you said, it’s a cry for attention from a group that probably didn’t even expect this much.

  5. […] “Social Media Not the Answer for Weak Brands,” and the second post is called “When Big Brands SHOULDN’T Listen to Their Customers.”  Both of these posts highlight valuable lessons and learnings from the social media world […]

  6. BizCoach Tim says:

    Great post. It just proves my point that the “customer is always right” is a big fat myth.

    I’m also a Christian, and I don’t believe that any religion should be jammed down anyone’s throat. In fact, that’s downright un-Christian!

    Besides, I think it’s sacrilegious to have Jesus (in the form of Christmas) hawking products. Christmas is not about consumerism, it’s supposed to be spiritually significant. So, I’m completely fine with receiving a “Happy Holidays” card or being marketed to with secular messaging.

  7. I don’t even LIKE the gap and now I’m thinking of buying some of their crummy pajamas just because this is so dumb.

  8. Paige Holden says:

    The GAP is too big to cave into the AFA. it’s size, broad demographic and sheer prevelance in myriad communities, with different social and spiritual values, makes it impossible for them to do so. In fact, at this point, caving to the AFA would create such a stir that they would do more damage to themselves than if they had included Christmas in the first place. National advertising ventures (and the investment involved) requires that the content appeal to the broadest possible audience. Further, the GAP can’t really risk alienating anyone in this economy – like most retailers, they need this holiday season to offset some massive losses in 2009.

    What always gets me is the negativity involved in these silly campaigns. Why doesn’t the AFA use its dollars to promote those companies that do highlight Christmas (maybe partner with them to offer special promotions which would be ideal in this environment)and then just ignore the rest. Sigh. You could say the same about PETA. At the end of the day, all the AFA really cares about is the publicity – not advancing its own cause in a productive way.

    Paige Holden

  9. Steph Lund says:

    great post – really enjoyed reading this and agree with your comments

  10. […] David Teicher blogged about how The American Family Association is asking consumers to boycott Gap Inc. and its brands (Gap, […]

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