Andrew Parker

25 Brands That Learned the Hard Way That Woke Isn’t Always Welcome

It’s no secret that many companies are jumping on the woke bandwagon to show they care about more than just profits. But for some of them, this decision has cost them a number of customers, among other things. Here are 25 stories about companies that tried to go woke but ended up creating a ton of problems for themselves.

Gillette 

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Back in 2019, Gillette tried to teach people about toxic masculinity with an ad that showed guys stepping up against bully and sexism. On paper, this sounds great, but in practice, some guys felt like it was accusing all men of bad behavior. Not everyone felt like buying their razors after this incident.

Pepsi

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Pepsi thought it’d be cool to have Kendall Jenner solve social tensions with a soda at a protest. If only real-world problems were that easy, right? This ad was meant to unite people, but it came across as if they were making light of serious issues. Pepsi eventually pulled the ad and had to apologize for missing the mark.

Starbucks

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Starbucks tried to get people talking about race in 2015 with its “Race Together” campaign. This campaign involved baristas writing this phrase on coffee cups to try to start an important conversation. But for many people, it was an inappropriate conversation for a coffee company to be having, which is why it completely failed.

Nike

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Nike planned to release sneakers with the Betsy Ross flag but pulled them back after NFL footballer Colin Kaepernick pointed out that the flag had a history with slavery. Some people supported Nike for doing this, while others said they had bowed to work pressure. It left people divided and debating more than just style or comfort.

Dick’s Sporting Goods

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After the Parkland shooting, Dick’s Sporting Goods decided it was time to stop selling assault-style rifles and to increase the age limit for buying guns. They thought it would help to stop gun violence, but it led to lots of people taking their business elsewhere because they weren’t happy about the change. In fact, the company’s CEO eventually had to step down.

Ben & Jerry

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Almost everyone loves a good scoop of Ben & Jerry’s, but most of us don’t realize they’ve got some strong political opinions, too. In 2018, they launched the “Pecan Resist” campaign, which was a flavor that would support groups fighting against anti-woke policies. For some, this was a sweet idea, but there were also plenty of people who didn’t want their ice cream to come with a sprinkling of politics.

NFL

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Many NFL players began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America. But, this caused many issues because the league couldn’t find a middle ground. They couldn’t respect the players’ messages while keeping traditional fans happy, which ended with some viewers tuning out completely.

Lush

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Lush Cosmetics isn’t shy about getting involved in politics, like with its 2018 undercover police campaign. They tried to educate people about the serious issue of undercover police abuse, but this ended up confusing many of their customers. When you’re picking out a bath bomb, the last thing you want to think about is police politics.

Delta

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Delta Air Lines decided to end their discounts for NRA members after the Parkland shootings, which was their way of taking a stand on gun control. While it flew well with some people, most NRA supporters decided to boycott Delta because they saw this policy as being too woke. Clearly, the skies aren’t always friendly when politics boards the plane. 

Target

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In 2016, Target opened its bathroom doors to transgender people and allowed people to use whatever bathroom they felt fit them best. Although it was meant to be a move toward inclusivity, not everyone was ready to walk through that door. Many shoppers boycotted the store, and they still do to this day.

Audi

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Audi made a Super Bowl ad that was meant to target the gender pay gap, which is obviously a powerful message. But the problem is that mixing sports and politics isn’t always a great idea, as the ad got as many cheers as it did boos. Sometimes, the middle of the road is the hardest place to drive.

Patagonia

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Patagonia launched a campaign called “The President Stole Your Land,” which was meant to support environmentalism. While some shoppers appreciated that the brand was dealing with such an important problem, others felt the message was too aggressive. They felt the brand was being too woke and stopped shopping with them.

H&M

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H&M tried to step up its fashion game by promising more ethical practices, but not everyone was buying it. Many people criticized the fashion brand for “greenwashing” and questioned if they were actually planning to help the environment. They argued that the brand was just putting on a show to appeal to the woke crowd.

Levi

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Levi Strauss jeans are some of the best around, but their political views leave a little to be desired. Like some of the other brands, company executives decided to get involved in the gun violence debate by supporting gun control policies. This led to boycotts from plenty of people who argued their clothing shouldn’t come with forced political activism.

Warner Bros

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Many film studios have been trying to hire a more diverse range of actors, including Warner Bros. In theory, it’s nice to see different faces on the screens, but some people argued that the studio was just ticking boxes instead of choosing the right actors. These critics boycotted the studio’s films, which could be why Warner Bros is in financial trouble.

Netflix

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Similarly, Netflix switched up its digital library to apparently support a more woke mindset. They added more LGBTQ+ and feminist content while also cutting classics like “The Office” and “Friends.” Many people called it too “woke,” saying that the social media giant was pushing a progressive agenda too hard.

Victoria’s Secret

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When Victoria’s Secret featured a plus-sized transgender model in 2018, they were trying to be more inclusive and woke. Unfortunately, not everybody was so happy. Their choice of model shook up their classic brand image, which had always focused on a very specific beauty standard. It might’ve been a brave decision, but the jury’s out on whether it was a good one.

Blizzard

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Blizzard Entertainment once punished a professional gamer for supporting Hong Kong’s protest for democracy. This led to quite a lot of backlash because many people said the gaming company was trying to support China at the expense of free speech. These critics boycotted the company, which hurt its reputation.

Taco Bell

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Taco Bell tried appealing to the woke crowd by celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Unfortunately for them, this actually caused a lot of cultural controversy because many leftists criticized the company for appropriating Mexican culture. They argued that the fast-food company had crossed the fine line between celebration and appropriation.

Bud Light

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One of the most famous recent cases of “go woke, go broke” is beer company Bud Light. They teamed up with transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney to celebrate pride, but this completely backfired. Lots of conservative groups didn’t like the partnership one bit and boycotted the group, with sales falling around 17%.

Coca Cola

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Coca-Cola tried to deal with race issues with a training seminar that told employees to “be less white.” As you might imagine, this didn’t go as planned. This move led to massive uproar and accusations that Coca-Cola was itself racist. Their reputation took a hit, and executives learned the hard way that good intentions aren’t always enough.

LEGO

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In 2020, LEGO decided to stop marketing their police and emergency toy sets because of the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Although some people praised them for doing this, there were also lots of people who thought it was a little over the top. Critics argued that the company was trying to erase cops.

Oreo

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Oreo has been loud and proud about supporting LGBTQ+ rights, but not everyone has agreed with them. In 2020, the right-wing group One Million Moms boycotted the cookie company after they released an ad with pro-LGBTQ+ messaging. They were not the only ones, as other conservative groups did the same.

Costa Coffee

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British coffee shop Costa Coffee released a van mural that featured a man with top surgery scars, which quickly led to a lot of backlash. Critics began using the hashtag #BoycottCostaCoffee, although it’s unclear if this hurt sales for the company. Either way, it’s clear that people weren’t happy with them for going woke.

Disney

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Another recent example is Disney, which publicly opposed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which made discussions on sexuality and gender identity illegal in the classroom for certain grades. After they opposed this law, many people began boycotting the House of Mouse. They lost approximately 11 million subscribers, although it’s unclear if this was directly because of the boycott.

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