Tis the Season for Boycotts: Gap and American Family Association

It is November so it is time for US conservative groups and pundits to bring up the “War on Christmas.”  Companies that have employees greet customers with “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” and/or use the term “holidays” in advertising rather than “Christmas” are put on the naughty list.  Yes, the American Family Association (AFA) calls it the “Naughty or Nice List” as it rates retailers on their use of Christmas.  Here is a description of the list:

“Criteria – AFA reviewed up to four areas to determine if a company was ‘Christmas-friendly’ in their advertising: print media (newspaper inserts), broadcast media (radio/television), website and/or personal visits to the store. If a company’s ad has references to items associated with Christmas (trees, wreaths, lights, etc.), it was considered as an attempt to reach “Christmas” shoppers.

If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word ‘Christmas,’ then the company is considered as censoring “Christmas.”

Color Code:

Company uses the term “Christmas” on a regular basis, we consider that company Christmas-friendly.

Company refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others.

Company may use ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it.” http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147486887

The conclusion is that if retailers do not use the word Christmas they are anti-Christmas and, therefore, anti-Christian.  AFA has every right to create their list and use public relations to share it with their members and supporters.  Retailers counter that the US market is diverse and “happy holidays” is more inclusive of a phrase.  So the choice is about inclusion and sensitivity to others for retailers rather than exclusion.  It seems odd that the old concern over exploiting Christmas for commercial gain has lost its appeal.  Retailers are now criticized for not exploiting Christmas.  It can get confusing.

In 2009, Gap became the initial target for the AFA.  They had an announcement about the Gap boycott on the web site and had their interactive site ready.  Go to http://action.afa.net/takeaction/gap/ and there is form to help spread the word about the boycott and a place to sign a boycott pledge.  There is also an explanation of the boycott at the site posted Nov. 11:

“AFA is calling for a limited two-month boycott of Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, the three stores owned by San Francisco-based Gap Inc., over the company’s censorship of the word ‘Christmas.’

The boycott is part of our ongoing campaign to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to put Christ back in Christmas. The boycott runs from November 1 through Christmas Day.

For years, Gap has refused to use the word Christmas in its television commercials, newspaper ads and in-store promotions, despite tens of thousands of consumer requests to recognize Christmas and in spite of repeated requests from AFA to do the same.

Last year, Gap issued this politically-correct statement to Christmas shoppers: ‘Gap recognizes that many traditions are celebrated throughout this season and we feel it is important to display holiday signage that is inclusive to everyone.’” http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147489466

People visiting the site had mixed reactions to the boycott.  Here is a sample of the responses left on the page:

“11/13/2009 11:08:26 PM
Gap is marketing to all of America. Not just Christians. I think it is great that Gap is including all cultures in their celebration. America is a melting pot, after all. Does the Gap need to commercialize Christ for us to shop there?
11/13/2009 9:45:50 PM
Why is the AFA fighting for the materialism of Christmas? I would be pleased that companies are not using Christmas as a way to make money, instead the AFA promotes the materialism of one of our most sacred days. Sad.

11/13/2009 7:43:29 PM
I also support the boycott.” http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147489466

But a funny thing happened along the way, Gap advertising did include Christmas along with a number of other holidays.  The television ad is complemented by a web site, www.cheerfactory.com, where people can send customized video singing greeting that includes one with Christmas (and the other holidays) in the message.  http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-neil17-2009nov17,0,2040716.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fbusiness+%28L.A.+Times+-+Business%29

The AFA used this opportunity to declare victory over the Gap and express continued distaste with the Gap:

As a result of your actions, Gap has produced a television commercial that uses the word “Christmas.” Here are the words to the commercial:

“Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.

Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.

AFA believes this ad to be completely dismissive and disrespectful to those who celebrate the meaning and spirit of Christmas. AFA asked Gap for a meeting to discuss the ad, but Gap has not responded.

If this is Gap’s answer to recognizing Christmas, we are deeply disappointed.” http://action.afa.net/takeaction/gap/  


Questions to Consider

  1.  Is it ethical for AFA to claim their actions changed Gap advertising when then ads would have been created long before the boycott started on November 11?
  2. What advice would you provide Gap management about responding to the AFA boycott and what is the reasoning behind that advice?
  3. How would you evaluate the reputational threat posed by the AFA boycott?
  4. How could issues management have helped the Gap anticipate and to prepare for 2009 AFA boycott?
  5. The Los Angeles Times article linked in the entry notes that the AFA boycotts have no financial effect.  What other effects are possible with a boycott?
  6. How does this US-based case reflect concerns associated with public relations going international?
  7. Are retailers hypocritical in exploiting Christmas without recognizing Christmas?

One Response to Tis the Season for Boycotts: Gap and American Family Association

  1. DISH Network says:

    At DISH Network, we’re definitely not afraid to wish everyone a merry Christmas! We encourage you to check out our latest commercial spot and celebrate Christmas right along with our employees! http://bit.ly/7fWh9p

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