New York (CNN) Calls for a boycott of Hershey are spreading on Twitter in response to the chocolate company’s Canadian International Women’s Day campaign, which includes a trans woman.
This is 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 a series of tweets on Wednesday about her involvement in the Her for She campaign.
It “means a lot to be included, as a young (rather?) trans woman,” Johnstone wrote. “I grew up with few trans role models. Many young trans people have never met a trans adult. I hope this campaign shows trans girls that they can dream big and change the world too.”
Johnstone’s posts drew 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 slam critics.
“We value unity and recognize the strength created by diversity,” Hershey said in a statement to CNN of the campaign backlash. “For 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 is not uncommon for companies to experience backlash for actions that customers view as politically charged.
Nike was the target of a boycott campaign when it featured Colin Kaepernick in an advert in 2018, after the footballer became a polarizing figure for kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of police brutality.
More recently, right-wing pundits called M&Ms “woke” after the candy brand introduced a new female “spokesperson” and put her on M&M wrappers as part of a marketing campaign.
Brands often align themselves with certain values to appeal to customers, especially younger ones. But this tactic can also upset others who disagree with the brand message.
In this campaign, Hershey has enlisted five women, including Johnstone, who are activists in their fields.
Kelicia Massala and Rita Audi each focus on gender equality, Naila Moloo is a climate tech researcher, and Autumn Peltier is an Indigenous and water rights activist, according to Hershey’s Her for She. The women talk about each other and their work in a series of videos posted on the page. The campaign also includes limited edition chocolate bars with special packaging.
While it’s risky for brands to get into the political fray, it can pay off.
A 2018 poll showed that among people between the ages of 35 and 44, 52% of respondents favored Nike’s use of Kaepernick in its advertising. The following year, Nike won an Emmy for its Kaepernick commercial. And Nike hasn’t been financially impacted by the move – the company’s shares have risen around 80% since 2018.