Dear World Brands: A message from your friends, The Gays

AMERICAblog reader Usagi posted a particularly good comment yesterday, reprinted below, regarding our earlier story about Ikea recently pulling a feature story about a gay couple from the Russian version of its magazine, “Ikea Family Living.”

Ikea was concerned that the article might be illegal under Russia’s draconian new anti-gay “propaganda” law.

We noted that Ikea had a choice between simply ignoring the Russian law or censoring their magazine.  Ikea could have simply pulled their magazine from Russia all together:

Ikea could have simply pulled its magazine entirely from Russia, and put up a big sign in its stores where the magazines used to, and done a mailing to its customers in Russia in place of its magazine, informing everyone that the magazine was pulled because of Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law.

While I’m no great fan of Ikea caving in any way to Russian bigotry, it’s at least marginally better for them to pull the magazine entirely, and put up a notice educating the Russian public about the ramifications of the country’s anti-gay, than to agree to ethnically-cleanse their own advertising in the face of nationalist bullies.

MOSCOW - AUGUST 22, 2013: Rainbow pole with pointer showing distances from Moscow to Russian cities where IKEA stores are available. (Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock.com)

MOSCOW – AUGUST 22, 2013: Rainbow pole with pointer showing distances from Moscow to Russian cities where IKEA stores are available. (Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock.com)

Here’s Usagi’s response, in full:

Dear World Brands (and aspiring world brands),

Thanks so much for realizing that gay people have money to spend on the stuff you’re selling, and that targeting us directly in your advertising makes it more likely we’ll throw some of that money your way.

You’re a bit late to the party, but the good news (for you) is that most of the gay-specific stores that popped up in the 80s and 90s have gone the way of the dodo. There are two important things you need to get up to speed on, though, if this is going to work for you.

First, it’s the 2010s.

While including same sex couples (or even a same-sex couple with their kid) was absolutely radical back in the day, it isn’t anymore. In fact, it’s sort of de rigueur. You have heard that in about one-third of the US states, we’re up to legal marriage? Yeah, really, who saw THAT coming ten years ago?)Non-discrimination policies, spousal benefits, outreach, IGB video, targeted advertising, all that?

Yeah, that gets you zero bonus points anymore because it’s the minimum standard (but hey, at least you’re in the game).

Second, you can’t thread the needle on this. Sorry.

There’s the core of hard-case nutjobs who really most sincerely hate Teh Gays with every fiber of their being. Sometimes it feels like they don’t do anything but wake up in the morning and look for something to be offended by.  Kind of like that s-storm General Mills walked into a few months back with the Cheerios commercial with the adorable bi-racial girl who talked to her white mother about how heart-healthy Cheerios is, then put cereal on her black father’s chest while he was sleeping on the couch; how adorable was that?

Yeah, probably better you don’t read the comments on that video or you might start thinking that the whole idea of a post-racial society was a bigger crock than the tooth fairy.

(NOTE FROM JOHN: Actually, the comments for the video on YouTube were subsequently “disabled” because, reportedly, of how racist they became.  I did find some similar comments on a video interviewing the little girl in the video and her real-life biracial parents.

Here’s one:

cheeriosYes, wouldn’t want to “promo-gate” anything.)

So, like the old song goes, there are no neutrals here (or if you want to flash back to the millennium, you’re either with us or you’re against us).

You can either appease the haters or you can market to us. You can’t do both successfully. The world is too connected now. We don’t hear about this stuff two moths after it happens in the back of a weekly gay paper, we see it in a dozen twitter feeds and Facebook status updates almost as soon as it happens. Kind of a bummer for you, but it’s an imperfect world. If you’re going to market to us, you’d better commit. We’re a bit touchy about the whole commitment thing (fair-weather friends, years of being asked to hide behind the potted plants on the edge of the room — you understand).

Here’s the thing, those people who hate the gays so very, very much will always find something to call you on. You really can’t ever appease them. In fact, since you’ve explicitly pulled the gay content for them, they’re liable to start looking for coded stuff that you left in, whether it’s there or not (rainbow fingernail polish and so forth).

Even if they crow about getting you to endorse their gay-hating agenda (which BTW is standard operating procedure for them — they lie about things like that, a lot), they’re still not going to buy your stuff. Google “parallel economy” sometime to get an idea what they really think of you.

(The Parallel Economy is a group of Christian (Dominionist mostly) businesses that aspire to provide all of the goods and services required to other Christians so that they do not have to patronize any businesses that support a secular agenda. When you get down to the lower part of the rabbit hole, there’s the usual conspiracy stuff with demons and Satan replacing the Illuminati and the Lizard People in the New World Order. Thing is, there are parts of the country where they are VERY effective. You can’t buy from anyone who isn’t in the parallel economy, and the people who patronize it deliberately do so, quite literally, religiously (as in, it is a tenet of their religious practice to only buy from identified Christian sources so that their money serves only to further the cause, and they will go without rather than support the secular economy).)

We, the gays, on the other hand, are generally happy to spend money on people who flatter us with advertising. The flip side is we’ll cut you so fast if you betray us, you won’t know what hit you. And no one carries a grudge the way we do (ask Coors beer about how that goes).

So, most people are willing to forgive a little advertising faux pas.

Once.

Really, we get that World Brands still aren’t totally up to speed on the new interconnected world we live in.

The corollary is that you get one chance to fix it, too. Or we cut you. Because if there’s one thing that we’ve learned very vividly, it’s that our worst enemies aren’t the haters. There aren’t that many of them; they’re just very, very noisy. No, our worst enemies are the neutrals. Because they pretend they’re not doing anything for anyone, but what that really means is that they’re enabling the haters and defending the status quo (for whatever reason: ignorance, cowardice, profit–it really doesn’t matter).

You want our money and our business? Cool. Earn it.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • Benjamin Bee

    IKEA … furniture for troglodytes.

  • Matt Grimsey

    The fact is that there are bigger evils than hide-covering corporations when it comes to LGBT rights! On the one hand, what Russia is doing is sickening but I am more annoyed with anti-globalist activists who twist the LGBT rights agenda so that it fits in with how they see the world(Russia is the last best hope against Western cultural imperialism!) than I am with what Ikea is doing. They are responsible both for profits and the livlihood of their employees. Sometimes you have to be pragmatic!

  • mark_in_toronto

    Great, well-written response . . . however . . .
    Ikea is a for-profit corporation. They weigh the pros and cons of any venture and decide accordingly.
    The reasons they decided to produce pro-gay advertising are the same reasons they decided to pull the feature story in Russia. It’s called profit. Thinking that they have a social conscience in any of this is fruitless.
    Sanctions and boycotts are OK to make a point, but the real problem is the Russian government . . . not Ikea . . . not Olympic sponsors . . . not Russian companies who like Ikea are simply trying to sell a product.

  • Julian Battle

    WOW, speechless, better words never expressed…bra-fucking-vo!

  • Indigo

    There’s that darn cypress tree in the garden again!
    ;-)

  • My orioki bowl is empty.

  • pappyvet

    Brilliant usagi !!! Well done.

  • Indigo

    Sigh. Maybe he’d like to make a generous donation to my zendo?

  • Indigo

    You getting me the plane ticket?

  • Great Idea

  • I had a major go around with a wealthy ‘Buddhist’ friend over this very issue of “Social Justice,” when the Burmese monks rioted against their oppressive government. He was outraged and nearly strangled on his bourgeois dilettante spiritual agenda. I suggested he live on a dollar a day and get back to me.

  • Usagi knocked it outta da park. Way to go!!!!!

  • A lot of companies talk. They like to put lofty ideals in their ‘corporate policies’, say they don’t discriminate, to claim they are equal opportunity employers and keep a good public relations image. But they don’t ever like to mention that they are free to set aside those ideals and policies at any time they become inconvenient to doing business. Like avoiding showing women in ads in Saudi Arabia, or not caring that their workers in China have no rights, or having what is called ‘flexible scheduling’, to discriminate against certain employees by cutting their hours or changing their work schedules at random. It doesn’t take but a Google search to see just what kind of company they really are. Granted, any large international company is going to run into the same kind of things, but it is pretty simple when it comes right down to it. They are either ethical across the board, and have corporate principles which they stand up for, or they do not. IKEA is one of those companies that chooses not to.

  • It was a great comment :)

  • usagi

    Yowza, front page. Thanks, John.

    Tangentially related, this is how you do it (yes, it’s easier to push back against an anonymous vandal than a former super power, but the principle is the same):

    http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/gap-moves-quickly-after-one-its-ads-sikh-model-vandalized-154175

    tl;dr: Gap put (a very handsome) Sikh man in a bus stop ad. Ad is vandalized. Vandalism is documented and shared on social media. Gap responds by making the original photo their Twitter background.

    When you market based on diversity, you’re going to get pushback. You then decide whether you’re going to stand by your original decision or cave. To me, that’s a lot more important than the original ad. I’m glad The Gap didn’t opt for neutral on this.

  • David

    I don’t disagree with anything you said, but there’s just the slight possibility that there is another development that is just a tad more threatening to gay people in Sweden. It is very subtle, so perhaps you missed it. To find out what it is, go to Malmo with your partner. Hold hands and walk down the street. Observe what happens, take notes, and be sure to report the results to your interfaith committee.

  • Indigo

    While that nonsense is percolating out of Scandinavia, I’m serve as the (token) Buddhist on an “inter-faith” committee where the current debate is whether saying “social justice” in our documentation might outrage some of our donors. Hmmm . . . apparently, Pope Francis’s message isn’t sinking very deeply into the Christian compost.

  • I loved this comment yesterday, Usagi, and I’m glad it was promoted to a full post. It’s perfect.

  • nicho

    IKEA is a corporation. Better still, it’s a tangled web of corporations, holding companies, foundations, etc. Good luck trying to figure that out. Its sole goal is profit. Don’t expect it to have social conscience of any type. In fact, it has found ways to shelter from taxes most of its hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. It also under reports income tremendously. It’s not a warm and fuzzy company, despite its public persona. It’s a money-making machine and will do whatever it thinks it needs to do to make more and more money.

  • Thom Allen

    Great job, John and Usagi. I really liked how it was written and presented. Will be pasting the link on IKEA’s FB sire and sending it to it’s company website.

  • Thom Allen

    There are some LGBTQ business directories available online that you can search. Also, there are some specialty ones (like for LGBTQ health care. Sadly, many seem to be undersubscribed. Looks like some gay businesses aren’t listing themselves even though these sites only charge about $20/year.
    You can Google LGBTQ business directories, lebg health care, etc.

  • dula

    Yes Ikea could have challenged Russian law but capitalism has created a world full of cowards.

  • Hue-Man

    It seems to me there’s a connection between advertising directors/advisers and closeted Hollywood casting directors – and their clients. Both have grown up in homophobic environments and are now afraid of their own shadows. Not wanting to cause offence, gays and lesbians don’t exist in advertising world and gay and lesbian actors are denied roles where they would play straight characters.

    Marriage equality has been the national law here for more than 8 years and more than 10 years based on court rulings but I can think of only two TV ads that could be considered gay-adjacent. The first has an out gay Chinese-Canadian actor saying that the company supports his community, without stating whether it’s the Chinese community or the gay community. The second is equally ambiguous – two thirty-something men are moving boxes into a house, without indicating whether they’re in a relationship or just good friends helping each other move. This is truly pathetic. Ads that acknowledge the existence of gays and lesbians don’t have to be R-rated to sell whatever product is on offer.

    IKEA should have taken on the Russian law to determine its constitutionality, which is considered questionable. They have the resources and could have been recognized internationally for leading the charge; I’m well-aware of Russian public opinion and the extra-legal powers that Putin could bring to bear on IKEA’s business operations. Instead, IKEA is rightly seen as a “collaborator” (particularly in the way that the French view that word!).

  • Drew2u

    Feel free to tell ’em! :)

    https://www.facebook.com/IKEAUSA

  • caphillprof

    Well it is a country filled with men who get a raging hard on when they see a female nose.

  • Chef Kowalski

    IKEA could have just mailed the magazine and let the Russian postal service do the censoring. When I was stationed at an airbase in Saudi Arabia, the maintenance department subscribed to a U.S. trade publication that provided technical updates for appliances and ran ads for their repair parts and necessary tools. For six months they were puzzled as to why the publication arrived with one page ripped out. We contacted the publisher in Illinois and they sent back one of the missing pages. It had an ad in which a model dressed as a burlesque show nurse was holding a tray with the company’s soldering tools. The Saudi postal people thought it was too risqué for Saudi eyes and censored it.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Great, great, great article. In a little bit I’ll find Ikea’s Twitter account & tweet this out to them.

  • UncleBucky

    We can continue stop buying from X, Y, and Z stores and not going to A, B and C countries. It works for me.

    But you know, John Aravosis, what could be the best thing we could do? Like an Angie’s list, a list of safe countries, safe cities and best places to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and allies. Also, a list for various other values, such as Progressive, Unchurched, Atheist, etc. And a list of companies and stores where our presence, money and friendship is valued.

    I can’t do it. I don’t have the resources. But there is someone who nips in here who could start this kind of list of lists. From that list, a map could be generated showing the best places as well as the worst places. And then DAYLIGHT the hell out of the bad places.

  • Drew2u

    Via Ikea USA’s Facebook page:

    “IKEA USA Hello [Person] – thank you for your comment on this matter. We’d like to emphasize that all people are welcome at IKEA. IKEA FAMILY LIVE is a commercial, inspirational magazine for home furnishing produced for members of our customer club, IKEA FAMILY. The article in IKEA FAMILY LIVE features two women and a child living in London, and the focus is on solving their challenges at home living in a small space. In some countries, local laws prohibit us from publishing this article. We apologize if this offended anyone as that was never our intention.”

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