On Wednesday, Old Navy was trending on Twitter and Facebook, as well as overtaking a previously unrelated hashtag: #lovewins. And the retailer didn’t have to do much to earn it — the brand just stood by its April 29 ad depicting a happy, beautiful interracial couple with a cute kid. This, despite Internet hate bringing back anachronistic language like “miscegenation.”
Usually, Target Marketing’s advice when brands encounter consumer backlash is to respond to it and often apologize and explain the steps the company’s taking to right the wrongs. But in the case of overt racism, Gap’s Old Navy brand appears to have taken exactly the correct marketing approach. And there’s another bonus: Social media’s now packed full of pictures of cute kids.
The original tweet:
— Old Navy Official (@OldNavy) April 29, 2016
In this second tweet, Old Navy links to an article published on Tuesday by Today Style: "We are a brand with a proud history of championing diversity and inclusion. At Old Navy, everyone is welcome," [Old Navy] told TODAY.
Love from our family to yours https://t.co/qIOQDEaMXW
— Old Navy Official (@OldNavy) May 4, 2016
A couple of the supportive tweets:
— Jack McCain (@McCainJack) May 2, 2016
— Vanessa P (@MrsVanessaP) May 4, 2016
— Kia Birdsong (@Feng_Tweet) May 1, 2016
Here’s another look at what Old Navy appears to have done right:
Mobilizing Brand Advocates
While Old Navy didn't need to do much to get the word out, the brand did make its advocates aware of what was happening via the tweet and commenting in news articles. (Although this Fortune article does mention a recent controversy in a Gap ad, which critics said depicted a black girl as an armrest.) Old Navy's advocates took it from there, making the brand trend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.
— Catherine (@_myedenlife) May 3, 2016
Similarly, a pharmaceutical manufacturer urged brand advocates to help it stave off a hostile takeover with #perrigopride.
— Brady Madden (@bmadden12) November 13, 2015
— Perrigo Careers (@PerrigoCareers) November 13, 2015
Always Staying Positive
Old Navy didn't start calling its critics names. In its statements to the press and its follow-up tweet, the comments were about its approach as a brand and its commitment to diversity.
Also, the wording in the second tweet, "Love from our family to yours," is positive.
“Even if you feel the complaint is unjustified and uncalled for,” writes MassPlanner.com in January 2015, “don’t respond with an angry or defensive comment. This will make things worse and you will lose your credibility in front of other people that might see your comments. Stay classy! And don’t forget that social media can go viral really quickly.”
College students are learning this advice at PennState. One of the student guides advises that the marketers set the tone of the discussion.
"The general nature and tone of your posts will, in a sense, set the rules of engagement on your site," reads the guide. "A pleasant, positive, playful tone creates an atmosphere where aggressive negativity or attacks will seem out of place. In this scenario, it’s even possible that your other followers will come to your defense so you don’t have to. On the contrary, avoid sounding like an authority and never be a smart aleck, as the internet is always smarter."
Sometimes, doubling down on an ad is a bad idea. But for Old Navy, it turned out to be a positive PR move, as well as a way to bring in new customers and regain lapsed ones.
— Traci Law (@tracilaw) May 2, 2016
Cheerios also doubled down with a commercial showing an interracial couple and their daughter — by airing the sequel during the 2014 Super Bowl.
“The General Mills brand on Wednesday unveiled its 2014 Super Bowl spot from Saatchi & Saatchi in New York,” reads Adweek from January 2014. “And yes, that's the family from ‘Just Checking,’ the ad from last May that made headlines when General Mills shut down the comments section on the YouTube version because of racist vitriol. That earlier ad turned out to be a major win for the brand, however, as people everywhere jumped to its defense — and the view count on YouTube jumped to nearly 5 million.”
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
Related story: What to Do When People Talk Trash About You