New T-Shirts, Old Problems

June 10, 2011


Happy Pride Month! We’re very fortunate here in Ohio to have two huge Pride festivals– Cleveland and Columbus– plus a series of other Pride celebrations throughout the state. One of our campaigns, ButtOut Ohio, will have a presence in both markets, providing “drag” makeovers for free to anyone who commits to tobacco cessation. Should be really fun events.

Speaking of Pride, there seems to be a great deal of noise around Old Navy’s decision to release Pride shirts in select stores, with a portion of sales benefiting the “It Gets Better” Project. According to their Facebook page:

The Cause: Ready to make a fashion statement for a great cause? We’re carrying colorful Gay Pride t-shirts in select stores with 10% of the proceeds going to the It Gets Better Project! Many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly LGBT adults. They can’t imagine a future for themselves. The It Gets Better Project is a place where the young LGBT community can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future from fellow peers and straight allies. To find out more about the It Gets Better Project check out their Web site:

While these are new t-shirts for Old Navy, the problems that the retailer is facing are unfortunately pretty standard.

  • First, anti-LGBT organizations cannot believe that a national retail chain is boldly acknowledging what is in fact a reality for millions of Americans– same-sex love. Some organizations are even making this a political rallying point. But, let’s not forget why companies engage in initiatives such as this. Corporate social responsibility? Sure. Smart marketing? Definitely. Noise making? Absolutely. Calculated risk taking, knowing that the reward will be greater than the noise? You Betcha.
  • Next, those in the LGBT community are upset that the shirts are not offered in every store. Now, while I can’t remember the last time I actually sought out attire from an Old Navy (perhaps while I was in college, which was sadly almost a decade ago?), I can appreciate the frustration that I actually would need to drive for three hours here in Ohio to get the shirt. Some states don’t have any stores with these in stock. Before we get all fierce and start our uprising, let’s remember that what the store is doing is a good thing. And, most marketing initiatives are often done in a pilot mode, meaning that they test it out first before going wide. Would it have been amazing if they had it in every store? Sure. Would it be great if they even just had it available online as well? Um, yeah. But, it’s a step in the right direction, and I am thinking that the retailer’s efforts will only get better.
  • Media coverage is stereotypically picking up on the noise out there. While I can appreciate minute-by-minute updates on ignorant attacks on Old Navy for daring to be so bold as to cater to a demographic that already supports them, I think there is an opportunity for Old Navy to drown out the noise by creating a viral response to the attacks. Give people a chance to respond on your behalf. Create mobile kiosks in stores with the shirts, where people can film their own “It Gets Better” videos. Sponsor pride festivals in markets around the country, and donate the shirts to organizers to auction off for charity. Create a contest for LGBT youth to design next year’s line. The possibilities are endless. Just don’t lose sight of the positive while trying to deal with the negative.

So where do you net out on this story? Do you applaud Old Navy, or do you think they should have thought it through a bit more to maximize the impact of the initiative? I applaud any marquee organization willing to get into the GAYme (get it? Gay game…).

Have a great Pride Month. I’m not sure what t-shirt I will be wearing, but no doubt, it will be fabulous.