Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ford Caves, Will Advertise in Gay Publications, Risk Heterosexual, Traditional Families Boycott

Two weeks of vociferous criticism from homosexual activists not only succeeded in backing Ford away from its recent decision to restrict advertising some of its products from gay publications but forced the automaker into expanding such marketing efforts and all but begging for forgiveness for being politically incorrect on the issue.

The cave could not be more complete, according to this description in The New York Times:

"Ford's announcement, which gay advocates immediately praised, also included other steps to broaden the automaker's relations with gay consumers and repair damage from the initial decision to stop advertising.
"In a letter Wednesday to gay advocacy groups, Ford said that in addition to its current advertising campaigns in gay media, it would expand the ads to encompass all eight Ford brands.

"Previously, only Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo ran ads in gay publications. Now, the company has said it will advertise its Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda and Aston Martin brands in the gay press.
"'It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford's desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue behind us,' Ford's vice president for corporate human resources, Joe W. Laymon, said in the letter."


Ford's decision two weeks ago to restrict the advertising was widely perceived to be a response to a threatened boycott by the American Family Association, which claims to represent the interests of traditional, heterosexual families. The Times was unable to obtain comment from AFA.

Ford, like numerous Fortune 500 firms in the past decade, set itself up for the present no-win situation, thanks to its past decisions noted by the Times going back more than a decade to provide extensive corporate financial and other support for homosexual advocacy groups and causes.

"It was Ford's support of gay causes that led the American Family Association to call for a boycott. The association cited what it called Ford's 'extensive promotion of homosexuality,' including the company's training in tolerance of gays and ads designed specifically for gay audiences," reported the Times.

Having originally offered support for gay advocacy, Ford took a position bound to antagonize significant elements of the much larger community. But given the politically correct mainstream media's broad and usually unquestioning support of gay causes, it was inevitable that Ford would suffer a massive public relations backlash from trying to retreat from its original decision to back those causes.

All of which just demonstrates yet again that it is folly to market any general consumer market product on the basis of anything other than its intrinsic merits in satisfying customer needs. Adding a political factor to the marketing of non-political products is asking for just such a public relations disaster as Ford is now suffering.

UPDATE:

Jalopnik thinks I overstated Ford's reaction and praises Ford "for doing what they should be doing, which is making amends for listening to fascist nutjobs who would love nothing more than to stamp out any trace of queerness in the culture."

UPDATE II:

As expected by anybody familiar with the course of political theatre, the American Family Association responded to Ford's switcheroo on advertising in gay publications with a renewal of a threatened boycott of Dearborn products.

Given the rest of its problems, a fight with AFA is among the last things Ford needs at this time. The organization trumpets its support of traditional families and can generate significant activity in a boycott over an extended period of time if it chooses to do so. Much of AFA's organizational strength is in the South, which also happens to be a strong region for Ford sales.

Skeptics of AFA's ability to have an impact with its boycotts need only check with former Disney honcho Michael Eisner who became the focus of a battle with the group in 1996. Despite widespread derision in the mainstream media, AFA stuck with its Disney boycott for nearly a decade and claims - plausibly in some respects - to have produced tangible results, most notably in the popular movie now in theatres, "The Lion, The Witch and the Winter."

Predictions? Jalopnik, tonque firmly planted in cheek, says "somebody's defnitely going to lose an eye in this here barroom" brawl between Ford and AFA. If AFA follows through on its boycott threat, however, don't assume the blood that will be on the floor won't be mostly from Ford and especially its dealers.

In a society as politically and culturally polarized as ours, corporations that take sides guarantee losing customers one way or the other, no matter whether they are on the side of the angels or the devils.

UPDATE III:

Automotive News Executive Editor Edward Lapham offers this observation, which mirrors my own:

"There's always a chance that the whole matter is perfectly innocent. It could be that ad execs for Jaguar and Land Rover determined that ads in gay publications weren't moving the sales needle. And it could be that Ford execs decided corporate ads featuring all of the company's brands in gay publications might generate business. But it sure seems as if Ford caved in to both sides."

And Lapham notes that other political groups across the ideological spectrum are probably watching the Ford/Gays/AFA brouhaha and thinking of how they can make the boycott threat work for them.

Go here for a temporary link to the full Lapham column, provided courtesy of the good folks at Automotive News for this post only.