Calls to boycott Hershey are spreading on Twitter in response to the chocolate company’s International Women’s Day Canadian campaign, which includes a trans woman.
It’s the latest example of a brand generating a strong but mixed reaction to a promotional campaign that touches on cultural or societal issues.
Fae Johnstone, a queer, trans and feminist activist, posted about being included in the Her for She campaign in a series of tweets on Wednesday.
It “means a lot to be included, as a young(ish?) trans woman,” Johnstone wrote. “I grew up with few trans role models. Many young trans folks haven’t met a trans adult. I hope this campaign shows trans girls they can dream big and change the world too.”
Johnstone’s posts were met with praise and support, but also anger at Hershey, much of which included anti-trans rhetoric. On Thursday, some used #BoycottHersheys to voice their opposition to the campaign — while others used it to criticize the critics.
“We value togetherness and recognize the strength created by diversity,” Hershey said in a statement to CNN about the reaction to the campaign. “Over the past three years, our Women’s History Month programming has been an inclusive celebration of women and their impact. We appreciate the countless people and meaningful partnerships behind these efforts.”
It’s not unusual for companies to get backlash for moves that customers view as politically charged.
Nike was the target of a boycott campaign when it featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad in 2018, after the football player became a polarizing figure for kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality.
More recently, right-wing pundits maligned M&M’s as “woke” after the candy brand introduced a new female “spokescandy” and put her on M&M packages as part of a marketing campaign.
Brands often align themselves with certain values as a way to woo customers, especially younger ones. But that tactic can also upset others who don’t agree with the brand’s messaging.
In this campaign, Hershey tapped five women, including Johnstone, who are activists in their fields.
Kélicia Massala and Rita Audi each focus on gender equality, Naila Moloo is a climate tech research and Autumn Peltier is an indigenous rights and water activist, according to Hershey’s Her for She website. The women each talk about themselves and their work in a series of videos posted to the page. The campaign also includes limited-edition chocolate bars with special packaging.
While it’s risky for brands to enter the political fray, it can pay off.
A 2018 poll showed that among people aged 35-44, 52% of respondents were in favor of Nike’s use of Kaepernick in its commercial. The following year, Nike won an Emmy for its Kaepernick commercial. And Nike hasn’t been hurt financially because of the decision — the company’s stock has gone up about 80% since 2018.