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Target says backlash against LGBTQ+ Pride merchandise hurt sales

Pride month merchandise is displayed at the front of a Target store in Hackensack, N.J., Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig
Pride month merchandise is displayed at the front of a Target store in Hackensack, N.J., Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Brands and retailers are paying a big price for being caught in the crosshairs of America's culture wars.

Target reported Wednesday that the backlash over its LGBTQ+ merchandise before and during Pride month in June took a bite from its sales. This comes on the heels of Bud Light's parent company also reporting substantial losses in U.S. sales and profits due to similar reaction to a marketing campaign.

The moment is leading executives to wonder about the benefits of supporting social causes during a time of such polarization in the country.

"The reaction is a signal for us to pause, adapt and learn so that our future approach to these moments balances celebration, inclusivity and broad-based appeal," said Christina Hennington, Target's chief growth officer, on a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.

Target's sales dropped by more than 5% in the second quarter. The company didn't specify how much of that decline was due to the Pride backlash, but said it was enough to affect the bottom line.

In May, Target faced anger from all sides of the spectrum — first after it removed some displays celebrating Pride Month from store shelves after social media posts about its "woke" merchandise and threats against the safety of its workers. And then, the company faced further backlash from LGBTQ+ and human rights groups who said Target wasn't standing by the community.

Bud Light also faced a dramatic drop in sales after conservatives attacked a deal it struck with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. After Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light's parent company, responded to the firestorm by firing executives, LGBTQ+ advocates accused the brand of abandoning its stance in support of the community.

Target justified its decision to modify its Pride collection by citing concerns about employee safety. It removed some items from transgender designer Erik Carnell's Abprallen brand.

The conservative backlash against Target and Anheuser-Busch — and subsequent financial losses at both companies — comes at a time when bills targeting LGBTQ+ individuals are sweeping state legislatures across the United States.

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Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.