The Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams and longtime supporter of Bostonian cultural festivities, withdrew its sponsorship from Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday—and it wasn’t alone. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and many other elected officials also refused to march. Meanwhile, Heineken, Guinness and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have withdrawn support from New York’s St. Patty’s Day Parade today. All are occurring in the wake of a recent equal rights controversy that has sparked a great deal of unexpected backlash.
Beer brands lead the way
On March 13, Boston bar Club Café issued a statement saying that it would no longer sell Sam Adams beer until either the parade organizers changed their position on LGBT representation or Sam Adams withdrew its support for the Parade. In response, the Boston Beer Company tactfully pulled its funding of the event after a series of negotiations with the parade’s organizers, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, did not resolve the issue.
According to the Council, “We invite all to join us to celebrate this historic event, but we must maintain our guidelines to insure the enjoyment and public safety of our spectators.”
A day later, Heineken withdrew sponsorship from New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to show support for the LGBT community. Guinness then soon followed suit after NYC’s historic Stonewall Inn threatened to ban sales of its beer. The Ford Motor Company is now the parade’s last big-brand sponsor remaining.
Organizers of both St. Patrick’s Day Parades allow gay groups to march, but these groups are banned from identifying themselves by sexual orientation, whether by signage, clothing or other means. These bans have garnered intense backlashes from their respective communities, and three of the world’s biggest beer brands have stepped in to show their support for their loyal customers.
The importance of PR and earned media in an era of interconnectedness
The issues surrounding this year’s heated St. Patrick’s Day Parade sponsorships are just the latest example of how brands are at the mercy consumers and must respond adeptly to crises. At a time when social media can act as both the fuel for a fire and the water necessary to put that fire out, companies must remember that the consumer is king now more than ever before.
These recent events serve as a reminder that brands that don’t embrace social equality movements are likely to suffer at the hands of those movements. Thanks to the omnipresence of social media, every consumer has a voice, the confidence to make that voice heard and the platform from which to broadcast it to others.
The viral nature of Internet content and social media can be a brand’s best friend or its worst enemy. By responding quickly and graciously to the concerns of its customers, Sam Adams, Heineken and Guinness have used PR to effectively repair broken relationships and grow brand advocacy at the same time. The resulting earned media coverage praising the brands for its thoughtful and progressive actions will undoubtedly reap rewards for their respective companies in the long run. Meanwhile, Ford’s failure to respond adequately to the demands of gay rights supporters may come back to haunt the company in the future.
Is your brand embracing a comprehensive PR strategy through earned media? Learn more by checking out the Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Earned Media and get started today.