- Hershey’s has found itself within the culture war crossfire over an International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign that includes a transgender woman, per media reports.
- The chocolate marketer’s IWD push in Canada this 12 months spotlights Fae Johnstone, a self-described queer, trans and feminist activist, together with 4 other women making changes of their communities. Each of the ambassadors of the Her for She program appears on special packaging and in materials detailing their background.
- A #BoycottHersheys hashtag trended in response to the campaign, with many critics espousing anti-trans rhetoric. The backlash was followed by outpourings of support for Johnstone, marking one other instance of brand name marketing becoming a flashpoint for political skirmish.
A confectionary marketer has again set off a heated round of discourse, underscoring the potential risks in positioning brands around topical issues at the same time as those self same issues could be a helpful tool for fostering affinity with consumers.
Hershey’s IWD and Women’s History Month efforts make a degree of profiling women from diverse backgrounds who are attempting to affect change in areas starting from gender equality to access to wash drinking water amongst Indigenous communities. Along with Johnstone, the Canadian leg of the initiative for 2023 features activists and researchers Kélicia Massala, Rita Audi, Naila Moloo and Autumn Peltier. Each of the Her for She representatives appears on custom candy wrappers available at shops.
In the U.S., the marketer can be running a packaging play through limited-edition chocolate bars that emphasize the “she” within the brand’s name with purple coloring. The products are further decorated with a whole lot of adjectives like “fearless,” “loving” and “hardworking” which are intended to spice up women. Hershey’s partnered with Girls on the Run for the project and is deepening its work with the nonprofit elsewhere, including by sponsoring mentorship opportunities at a Future CEO event and via donations.
While Hershey’s is pulling out several stops for Women’s History Month, the inclusion of a transgender woman has surfaced the uglier side of social media and resulted in a familiar back-and-forth between opposing sides of the political aisle.
Brands ceaselessly get threatened with boycotts for entering into social issues, whether intentionally or by accident. The bottom-line impact of those backlash movements tends to be minimal if present in any respect. But in Hershey’s case, the controversy threatens to steal attention away from other facets of the campaign the corporate views as necessary. Conversely, it could draw attention to causes like trans rights.
“The response to my inclusion as a trans woman in Hersheys [sic] Canada’s IWD campaign shows just how far we still must go within the fight for feminist liberation and trans rights,” Johnstone wrote in a tweet responding to the campaign’s reception. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not shutting up. I’ll at all times rise up for ladies and girls, cis and trans.”
The situation echoes what happened earlier this 12 months with M&M’s. The Mars brand received criticism from right-wing personalities for rebranding its spokescandies to be more inclusive, with derisive applications of the word “woke” tossed around liberally. M&M’s issued an apologetic note stating it could retire its spokescandies as tensions ran high, but that ended up being a part of a — not particularly well-received — Super Bowl stunt.
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