June is Pride Month and seeks to honor the fight for LGBTQ rights and to celebrate the gay community. LGBTQ rights represent an important social issue globally. According to Cone Communication research, 78% of U.S. respondents want corporations to speak up on social justice issues. This past week Abercrombie and Fitch post the following Tweet the firm believed was supportive of Pride Month:
“The Pride community is everybody, not just LGBTQ people. – Kayla, merchandiser.”
Thousands of people on social media, including some important activists, did not think the message was supportive. Just the opposite, there was backlash because the message was perceived to indicate Gay Pride is not just for gay people. Here is the rationale for the backlash as found in a Tweet by activist Danielle Muscato:
“Pride is about being proud of being LGBTQ. That’s why it’s called #Pride. If you respect us, don’t co-opt that – especially for profit!”
Abercrombie and Fitch has a paracrisis on its hand. The social media mistake has done some reputational damage but the threat can be managed and need not become an actual reputational crisis. After all, stakeholders like it when firms talk about social justice issues. However, socialsprout found 71% of people in their U.S. sample do not like it when corporations use social media to talk about political issues. Is this case where the social justice issue was also viewed as political? That is an open question but we do a paracrisis has emerged from a social media message most stakeholders deem inappropriate.
Abercrombie and Fitch has posted two addition Tweets to clarify its position:
“Pride is an important time for the LGBTQ+ community. At A&F we work to ensure that everyone feels included, respected and empowered. #pride.”
“We are proud to show commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and to bring awareness to the import work the @TrevorProject does. #ANFxTrevor.”
Project Trevor is a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youths and Abercrombie and Fitch are one of its supporters. Critics were left wondering where was the apology for the faux pas? This is a case of the expectation value of apology. An apology will not necessarily make the situation better but its absence makes it was. There is an expectation of an apology that has been violated. Overall, Abercrombie and Fitch has given an ineffective response thus far. It might be enough to prevent the situation from becoming a reputational crisis but did not serve to completely end the paracrisis. Instead the response has maintained interest in the faux pas.
Questions to Consider
1. Is this a case where the comments on the social justice issue are viewed as political or just a faux pas by the firm?
2. What does Abercrombie and Fitch have to gain or lose by not offering an apology?
3. Why might people see the bolstering response (supporting Project Trevor) as a nice but unacceptable or irrelevant response?