Corporations may not be people, exactly, but they do have personalities and political views. And when the Supreme Court handed down its gay-marriage ruling on Wednesday, they reacted—some with jubilation, others not so much. And some saw dollar signs.
Google may have won the day with its rainbow Easter egg, but it wasn’t the only tech giant publicly signaling support for the decision. Apple, which rarely comments publicly on anything, made an exception in this case, issuing a statement to AllThingsD’s Mike Isaac: “Apple strongly supports marriage equality and we consider it a civil rights issue. We applaud the Supreme Court for its decisions today.” HP, a sponsor of San Francisco’s gay pride festivities, also came out in favor of the rulings, Isaac noted. Facebook had no official comment, but Instagram put together a blog post documenting the celebrations.
Other companies leapt at the marketing opportunities. AdWeek reports that MasterCard and ABC Family promptly bought promoted tweets associated with the #gaymarriage hashtag on Twitter. In ABC Family’s case, that may be purely a business move, as the company’s tweet was simply promoting a forthcoming show called The Fosters that revolves around an interracial lesbian couple. MasterCard, meanwhile, has been running a giveaway with the hashtag #acceptancematters, suggesting that the company believes that supporting gay marriage is good policy as well as good business.
It’s one thing for niche brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Marc Jacobs to tweet their backing for gay rights. But big mainstream brands have historically been less eager to run ads about politically charged issues, lest they alienate potential customers.
It may be that the leaders of companies like MasterCard simply believe so strongly in gay-marriage rights that they’re willing to risk a backlash. But it may also help that sites like Twitter allow companies to target ads by subject matter more specifically than ever before. If MasterCard ran an ad during the Super Bowl in favor of gay marriage, conservatives would squawk that it was invading their living rooms with a gay agenda. Running it beneath the #gaymarriage hashtag means that people only see the ad if they’re already interested in the issue.
Which brings us to Chick-Fil-A, the Georgia-based fast-food chain whose CEO made headlines and sparked boycotts last year with anti-gay-marriage statements. Surprise: Chick-Fil-A had nothing to say on the matter today. “We are leaving political decisions and discussions to others and focusing only on what we do best,” the company told the Wall Street Journal.
The lesson: Taking sides on a civil-rights issue isn't necessarily a bad business move. Just don't take the wrong side.