50 Brands That Lost Their Edge by Going Woke


What does it mean to be “woke”? It’s a term that refers to being aware of and supporting social justice issues. Sounds good, right? Well, not everyone agrees. Some people think that brands that go “woke” are pandering, virtue-signaling, or alienating their customers. Let’s look at 15 examples of brands that went “woke” and faced backlash, boycotts, or losses.

Bud Light’s Pride Misstep


Bud Light’s attempt to celebrate Pride Month took a controversial turn when it featured the face of trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a beer can. This move sparked outrage from conservative groups, politicians, and even celebrities like Kid Rock. The fallout included a significant sales drop, enabling Coors Light to surpass its popularity.

Target’s LGBTQ+ Collection

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In 2023, retail giant Target was met with intense harassment from anti-LGBTQ+ groups after launching an LGBTQ+-themed collection. Concerned about employee safety, Target decided to remove or hide some items, but this move eroded customer trust, resulting in a substantial decline in patronage.

Disney’s Wokeness Dilemma

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Known for its commitment to diversity, Disney encountered objections for allegedly being politically correct, anti-American, or anti-family. SEC filings indicate potential risks to Disney’s profits due to widespread public disapproval of its political stances.

Nike’s Collaboration with a Trans Influencer


This brand’s alignment with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney in 2023 garnered praise and disapproval. While some lauded Nike’s support for social justice, others initiated a boycott, even resorting to burning or cutting their products in protest.

Gillette’s Backlash Over Toxic Masculinity Ad


Gillette’s 2023 ad campaign, “The Best Men Can Be,” challenged toxic masculinity and faced severe opposition. Men felt insulted and accused the brand of being anti-male, resulting in an $8 billion writedown and an admission from parent company Procter & Gamble that the ad was a mistake.

Starbucks’ Controversial Straw Decision

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Starbucks’ announcement to switch to paper or compostable straws faced mockery and criticism for their perceived flimsiness and negative environmental impact. The company was accused of being hypocritical and engaging in virtue signaling, which resulted in a significant decrease in sales and a damaged reputation for the coffee giant.

Coca-Cola’s Backfire in the Pursuit of Wokeness

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Despite Coca-Cola’s efforts to align with the “woke” market, accusations of racism, sexism, and cultural appropriation emerged. The revelation that in 2023, employees were asked to take an online course urging them to “be less white” led to a substantial drop in stock price and brand value.

Netflix’s Critique for Embracing Wokeness


While Netflix received praise for diverse content, it faced criticism for its perceived “woke” agenda, with the removal of popular shows like “The Office” and “Friends” and the addition of some LGBTQ+ and feminist content being seen by some viewers as pushing a leftist, progressive, and anti-family ideology.

Oreo’s Fallout from a Trans Tweet

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Oreo’s tweet, “Trans people exist,” along with a picture of a cookie with the transgender flag colors in 2023, triggered accusations of being political and agenda-driven. Some customers claimed Oreo was tarnishing childhood memories, leading to a decline in sales and social media engagement.

Unilever’s Colorism Controversy

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Long-running consumer goods company Unilever was criticized for selling Fair & Lovely, a skin-lightening cream, accused of promoting colorism and racism. Despite positioning itself as socially responsible, the company’s actions sparked controversy.

Controversy Surrounds e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Eco-Friendly Brushes

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This popular cosmetic brand’s decision to launch makeup brushes made from recycled plastic bottles faced accusations of being “woke” and “political,” with customers claiming the brushes were of low quality.

Mars’ Backlash Over Uncle Ben’s Rebranding

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A well-liked confectionery and pet care brand, Mars faced boycotts for rebranding Uncle Ben’s to Ben’s Original, attempting to remove racial stereotypes. The move was met with criticism for pandering and attempting to erase cultural identity.

Pernod Ricard’s Donation to Trevor Project

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Pernod Ricard’s $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ youth support led to intense backlash. Some argued the company was prioritizing divisive causes over its products.

Campbell’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage


Campbell’s backing of same-sex marriage legalization in the US sparked calls for boycotts. The inclusion of a gay couple and their son in an ad further fueled controversy for the food company.

PepsiCo’s Kendall Jenner Ad Debacle


Public outrage and accusations of insensitivity led PepsiCo to apologize and withdraw an advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner, which was criticized for belittling the Black Lives Matter movement.

H&M’s Multicultural Misfire

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In 2018, H&M was criticized for an online ad featuring a black child in a hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle.” Swift backlash ensued, including allegations of racial insensitivity that sparked public outrage and demands for boycotts. In response, H&M issued an apology and withdrew the ad.

Chick-fil-A’s Donation Brouhaha

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Massive criticism hit Chick-fil-A in 2012 after revelations surfaced that the establishment had donated to organizations with anti-LGBTQ+ stances. As a result of this incident, nationwide protests and boycotts erupted despite the company’s strong customer loyalty base. Over the years, heeding their petitions, Chick-fil-A announced changes to its donation practices.

Dove’s Attempt at Diversity


Dove, known for its Real Beauty campaign, met with opposition in 2017 for a Facebook ad that seemed to show a black woman turning into a white woman after using its body wash. Dove extended apologies after the advertisement was condemned for perpetuating racial stereotypes.

Under Armour’s Political Stumble


Under Armour garnered negative attention in 2017 when its CEO, Kevin Plank, made favorable statements about President Donald Trump. Consumers who opposed the administration called for boycotts after Under Armour issued a statement clarifying its values in response.

LEGO’s Response to Social Unrest


Amidst global protests against police brutality, LEGO paused marketing for sets featuring police and emergency services in 2020. While some praised LEGO for its conscientious approach, others viewed it as an overreaction. This move highlights labels’ challenges in responding to societal conflicts without alienating audiences.

Lululemon’s Wellness Contention


Lululemon sparked uproar in 2020 by promoting a workshop on “resisting capitalism” through digital platforms, which many saw as hypocritical given the organization’s high-end pricing and capitalist business model. The altercation sparked debates about logos’ authenticity in societal movements, showcasing the fine line between advocacy and brand positioning.

J.K. Rowling’s Brand Fracas


Call it a magical misstep in inclusivity, but J.K. Rowling, the author behind the Harry Potter series, drew condemnation in 2019 (and beyond) for her comments on transgender issues. This discord extended to the Harry Potter trademark, and fans and activists called for boycotts of the books and associated merchandise.

Goya Foods’ Political Endorsement


Goya Foods found itself in hot water in 2020 after its CEO publicly praised President Donald Trump. Support from consumers opposing policies affecting Latinx and immigrant communities led to demands for ceasing purchases. An example of what can go wrong when corporate leadership’s endorsements are at odds with those of its customers is illustrated in this case.

Victoria’s Secret’s Changing Identity


Victoria’s Secret received pushback in 2018 for comments made by an executive regarding the exclusion of plus-sized and transgender models from its fashion show. Negative feedback ignited broader conversations on fostering equal opportunity within the clothing sector, prompting substantial restructuring and reassessment of marketing approaches.

Audi’s Gender Equality Misfire


Audi’s 2017 Super Bowl commercial advocating gender pay equality provoked controversy due to the organization’s pay disparities. Despite the positive message, revelations about Audi’s leadership team’s gender composition and pay practices led to accusations of hypocrisy.

Blizzard Entertainment’s Freedom of Speech Discord

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During a post-match interview, professional Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, which led Blizzard Entertainment to penalize him. Blizzard has been reprimanded throughout the gaming community for suppressing free speech to maintain market access in China.

T-Mobile’s Support for Equality Act


T-Mobile publicly endorsed the Equality Act in 2021, legislation aimed at providing comprehensive protections against discrimination for the queer community in the U.S. While advocates applauded the corporation’s stance, it also elicited censure from those opposing the legislation, showcasing the polarized nature of public opinion on human rights disparities.

CrossFit’s Social Media Crisis


As part of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, CrossFit’s CEO made controversial remarks on networking sites in 2020. These insights invited widespread disapproval, which resulted in several affiliated gyms disassociating from the trademark. The incident highlighted the potential fallout from personal views expressed by company leadership.

Equinox and SoulCycle’s Political Workout

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Due to a planned fundraiser for President Donald Trump by the chairman of Equinox and SoulCycle, both studios got boycott threats in 2019. Many members felt betrayed, believing the brands’ progressive and inclusive messaging contradicted the fundraising.

Paramount’s Casting Clash


Paramount Pictures received negative feedback for casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead protagonist of “Ghost in the Shell,” a 2017 film based on a Japanese manga series. Critics accused the studio of “whitewashing,” sparking a conversation about the need for authentic representation in Hollywood.

Taco Bell’s Cultural Misappropriation

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An advertising campaign for Taco Bell that prompted criticism for cultural appropriation was in the news a few years ago. Using cultural elements to promote its Cinco de Mayo special drew accusations of insensitivity, highlighting the delicate balance between celebration and appropriation.

Barilla’s Recipe for Strife


Barilla, the Italian pasta brand, suffered international boycott calls in 2013 after its chairman made comments opposing the depiction of same-sex families in the company’s advertisements. The remarks kindled a significant outcry, leading to cries for inclusivity and diversity. Barilla responded by implementing those initiatives.

Snapchat’s Insensitive Filter Fiasco


Snapchat came under fire in 2017 for releasing a filter that was widely condemned for trivializing domestic violence, explicitly referencing the assault of Rihanna by Chris Brown. It incited disfavor for the insensitive nature of the filter, prompting an apology and its removal.

Hobby Lobby’s Ethnic Callousness


Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts store, generated an outcry in 2020 for its acquisition and importation of ancient artifacts that were illegally obtained from Iraq. Legal action and public protest followed the controversy, raising questions about ethical sourcing and respect for cultural heritage.

Wells Fargo’s Diversity Decision Debate

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The CEO of Wells Fargo, in 2020, said he was having trouble finding qualified Black workers, sparking a debate on the company’s hiring practices. It emphasized the importance of internal inclusion initiatives within corporations, highlighting the barriers to addressing systemic inequality.

FedEx’s NRA Partnership Pressure

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After several mass shootings in 2018, FedEx was urged to end its discount program for National Rifle Association (NRA) members. Immense pressure on the shipping giant to take a stance on gun violence highlighted the adversities trademarks deal with when their business partnerships are scrutinized through the lens of social advocacy.

Urban Outfitters’ Cultural Appropriation Accusations

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Urban Outfitters stirred controversy in 2015 with products that were accused of culturally appropriating Indigenous designs and symbols, sparking a debate over the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. It spotlighted the significance of careful and respectful consideration in product design and marketing and the necessity for genuine engagement.

MyPillow’s Political Positioning

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MyPillow entered the political fray in 2021 when its CEO, Mike Lindell, became an outspoken supporter of controversial governmental theories and actions, aligning closely with President Donald Trump. Consequently, the trademark suffered in terms of retailer relationships and consumer perception.

Gucci’s Insensitive Fashion Faux Pas

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Gucci dealt with intense criticism in 2019 for releasing a sweater that resembled blackface imagery, igniting a conversation on cultural sensitivity and appropriation within the fashion industry. After pulling the product from shelves, the establishment quickly apologized. Still, it served as a stark reminder of the need for corporations to understand and regard histories and sensitivities sincerely.

IKEA’s LGBTQ+ Collection Retaliation


IKEA released a collection of love seats themed after different LGBTQ+ flags in 2021 to celebrate Pride Month. While many appreciated the effort to celebrate inclusiveness, others denounced the designs or questioned the sincerity behind the campaign, accusing the corporation of commercializing the cause.

Shein’s Communal Apathy Claims


Shein, a fast-fashion giant, was criticized in 2020 for selling prayer mats as decorative rugs, provoking cultural insensitivity and appropriation charges. The company also encountered severe opposition for not respecting religious symbols, resulting in an apology and product removal.

Adidas’s Diversity and Inclusion Efforts


Adidas experienced scrutiny in 2020 despite its ongoing efforts to promote multiculturalism and inclusivity, encompassing initiatives to increase employee representation and endorse social causes. Critics pointed to the need for more vital progress and transparency in achieving these goals.

Google’s AI Ethics Board Dissolution

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Google disbanded its newly formed AI ethics board just a week after its formation in 2019 due to controversies surrounding board member selections and their stances on various issues. Using AI research and applications responsibly requires diverse and inclusive perspectives, emphasizing tech companies’ challenges in addressing ethical concerns.

Victoria’s Secret’s Brand Image Evolution

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Victoria’s Secret underwent significant brand restructuring in 2019, moving away from its long-standing image centered on a narrow definition of beauty. It was confronted with appeals to embrace more diverse and inclusive representations of women, which prompted changes in its promotion strategies and show formats.

Trader Joe’s Packaging Polemic


In 2020, Trader Joe’s grappled with demands for change in product packaging that used names considered to reinforce stereotypes. Initially resistant, the grocery chain ultimately agreed to review and update its branding. This instance underscored the importance of establishments’ responsiveness to concerns about inclusivity and respect in their promotion strategies.

Burt’s Bees Ad Misstep

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After encountering dissent over an ad depicting a Black family in a way that some interpreted as reinforcing stereotypes, Burt’s Bees apologized. Due to this discord, the company steered portrayals of equal opportunity with care and sensitivity while ensuring the promotion celebrated acceptance without inadvertently echoing clichés.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Gun Sale Policy

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Dick’s Sporting Goods proclaimed it would no longer sell assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, a decision that came in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. While many praised the organization for taking a stand, others vowed to boycott, illustrating the polarized reactions brands can face when aligning their policies with philanthropic endeavors.

Converse Pride Collection Critique


Converse launched a Pride sneaker collection in 2019, featuring designs inspired by the queer community. While intended to celebrate diversity and inclusion, it received reproach from some who felt the label capitalized on Pride for profit without contributing significantly to LGBTQ+ causes.

Reebok’s Stand on Civil Matters


Reebok, in 2020, publicly distanced itself from CrossFit after the latter’s CEO made controversial remarks about the George Floyd protests. Reebok’s decision to end its partnership with CrossFit was lauded by many as a strong stand against racism and insensitivity, illustrating how companies’ alliances and responses to humanitarian concerns can significantly affect consumer perceptions and brand loyalty.

Ben & Jerry’s Environmental Advocacy


Ben & Jerry’s has long been known for its social activism, but its 2019 campaign focusing on climate change and its impact on dairy farming elicited mixed reactions. Even as environmentalists applauded the effort, some consumers and industry stakeholders condemned the business for overstepping its role as an ice cream manufacturer.


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