The “War” Season: Annual Concern over Christmas Advertising

December 4, 2010

The annual debate of whether or not Christmas appears in a company’s advertising has arrived.  The name for this event:  “The War on Christmas.”  Oddly if you go back a few years you find people complaining about the over-commercialization of Christmas by companies.  So you may not win whatever side you are on.  The War is based on advertising not using Christmas but instead a more generic term like the happy holidays or season’s greetings.  War advocates maintain this is political correctness and is deemed an attack on the faith.  Others feel the more generic terms are more inclusive in a society that is increasing diverse and not everyone is Christian. 

The American Family Association (AFA) leads the charge in the War on Christmas.  The AFA is a Christian based group looking to promote family values—as they define them.  They are very active in using public relations to support their position, which is their right in the US.  Visit their web site if want to see how effectively activist groups can use public relations.  Whether or not you agree with their views, their public relations works is very good. 

Here is how the AFA explains their annual rating of companies in relation to the War on Christmas. 

Based on current advertising, below is a list of companies that avoid, ban, or use the term “Christmas” in their advertising.  We will continually update the list, so check back often.

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.”

It is clever how they create and code the list.  Here are the lists for the three categories:

Companies FOR “Christmas”
Bass Pro Shops
Bed Bath & Beyond
Best Buy
Big Lots
Collective Brands
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Family Dollar
Dollar General
H.E.B. Stores
Harris Teeter Stores
Hobby Lobby
JC Penney
JoAnn Fabrics & Crafts Stores
Michael’s Stores
Neiman Marcus
Office Max
Pier One Imports
Rite Aid
Scheels Sporting Goods
Super D Drug Stores
Toys R Us
Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club

Companies marginalizing “Christmas” 

Bath & Body Works
Dollar Tree
Hy-Vee Stores
Old Navy
Limited Brands
Whole Foods 

Companies against “Christmas” 

Banana Republic (NEW!)
Barnes & Noble
CVS Pharmacy
Gap Stores (NEW!)
Hancock Fabrics
Office Depot
Radio Shack
Victoria’s Secret

But the AFA sees danger in War.  Here is a statement at the end of the list “If you hear of instances of hostility toward Christmas expression, please let us know. AFA is working with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) to provide resources for government and public school authorities laboring under the misimpression they must censor Christmas. You can contact ADF at (1-800-TELL-ADF ) for a copy of their legal analysis and memo on rights of seasonal expression at Christmas. We want to inform public officials about the law, and then encourage them to take a stand for Christmas.”  

Questions to Consider

1. Why do you think the “War on Christmas” gets so much attention each year?

 2. What is the risk to an organization for appearing on the marginalized or against Christmas lists?

 3. If management asked for your ideas on using Christmas or not in advertising, what would you recommend and why?

 4. What is the difference between being viewed as not using Christmas in advertising and being against or censoring Christmas?

 5.  How does the AFA use public relations to promote its view of the “War on Christmas?”

 6. How important is the Internet for promoting the “War on Christmas?”


Home Depot: Promoter of Equality or Corruptor of Children

July 23, 2010

The Home Depot is a large chain that sells stuff people use for home repairs, building, or remodeling—the handy person market.  Their target audience is anyone who needs home repair-related materials.  This can include light bulbs and air filter for the not-so-handy people.  The handy person market is diverse so Home Depot targets many segments including homosexuals.  The American Family Association (AFA) has a long history of attacking companies that support homosexuals in any way.  Past targets for their wrath include Disney and Ford for providing same sex partner benefits and marketing in homosexual outlets. 

Home Depot has been sponsoring many gay pride events in the U.S. including Atlanta, Portland, Kansas City, and San Diego.  The AFA describes such support as giving “its financial and corporate support to open displays of homosexual activism on main streets in America’s towns.  Rather than remain neutral in the culture war, The Home Depot has chosen to sponsor and participate in numerous gay pride parades and festivals.”  But the worst act has been to help corrupt children. “Most grievous is The Home Depot’s deliberately exposing small children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals and cross-dressers, which are a common occurrence at these events.”

What Home Depot has done is to sponsor craft stations for kids at gay pride events.  Home Depot routinely provides such stations at their stores and other events.

The critics say:  “Home Depot also signed on as a vendor, conducting kid’s craft workshops for children in the midst of loud and boisterous gay activities.  To this end, Home Depot is basically encouraging the attendance of children at events which openly expose them to transvestites, cross-dressers, and homosexual activists.”

But other people do not see a problem with Home Depot’s actions.  Here are some supportive comments:

I think it would be worth sending edited letters of support through their email system. As you point out, it may get filtered, but it will also show them there are many non-haters out there. That said, it would be important to send letters of support directly through Home Depot’s website. I have to admit it was fun to take the AFA’s letter and change key words to deliver a completely different message than what the AFA intended. peace

I just sent an email edited for my support as well. My only concern is these are filtered through the AFA’s email server so likely they will be checked and only those “approved” by the AFA will be sent. The best email address to send your support directly to is Attn: Frank Blake. I just know the AFA is definitely not going to allow our support emails for Home Depot to filter through their email server.

The AFA is using its web site to promote a boycott of Home Depot and to have people send e-mail messages to Home Depot critical of support of gay pride events.  The AFA believes the homosexual agenda is a danger to U.S. families.

Questions to Consider

  1. What role does public relations play in the Home Depot-AFA conflict?
  2. Would this qualify as a crisis for Home Depot?  Why or why not?
  3. How does this case reflect the way stakeholders can place conflicting demands on an organization?
  4. If Home Depot asked you for advice, what would you recommend they do and why?
  5. How do you deal with critics who are devoted to a cause that your organization might view as wrong?
  6. How does this case illustrate the way diverse views can compete in the marketplace of ideas?

Tis the Season for Boycotts: Gap and American Family Association

November 18, 2009

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.”

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 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.’”

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.”

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,, where people can send customized video singing greeting that includes one with Christmas (and the other holidays) in the message.,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.”  


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?

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