Purpose campaigns—including weighing in on social causes or diversity and inclusion issues— have always come with some risk for brands. But in recent months, these risks have come to include marketing leaders coming under media and social-media attacks, even experiencing reported death threats, over their campaigns.
The fallout already has resulted in two Anheuser-Busch InBev executives going on a leave of absence in the wake of conservative blowback against the brand’s use of transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, and a Molson Coors executive taking down her social media accounts last month after being doxed by right-wing critics upset over a Miller Lite Women’s History Month campaign.
And beyond marketing, Target cited threats to employees among the reasons it removed or downplayed Pride Month LGBTQ+ merchandise in some stores. Chick-fil-A, long favored by conservatives who supported founder S. Truett Cathy and his son/Chairman Dan T. Cathy’s statements against gay marriage, recently has come under fire for employing a head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Erick McReynolds—despite the fact he has been in the role since at least 2020.
It all raises the question of whether recent targeting and doxing of individual executives, including high-ranking marketers, will have a chilling effect on other industry leaders undertaking purpose or cause-related campaigns. It appears the answer is yes, based on comments from industry sources and given that few were even willing to talk on background about the topic.
“Everyone is talking about this,” said former Procter & Gamble Co. chief marketer Jim Stengel, who is now a consultant. “It’s in almost every conversation. The level of scrutiny is going to go up.”
Personal attacks a new frontier
Brands have long faced criticism when weighing in on anything deemed political, but the element of personal attack is a new dynamic that is bound to have marketers rethinking how they do things, said Lisa Mann, manager of the consumer practice and chief marketing officer of executive placement firm Raines International.
Mann was a marketer at Mondelēz International overseeing Oreo when the brand came under attack in 2012 over social media posts showing cookies with rainbow-colored fillings. Comments on its Facebook page were often nasty, but she and other marketers weren’t hunted down and individually attacked on social media. It’s been different lately with beer marketers in particular.