While fast-food chicken chain Chick-fil-A has inflamed gay organizations and their supporters nationwide, many companies are going out of their way to court those groups.
LOS ANGELES — Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s public opposition to gay marriage has landed him in a lonely corner of corporate America.
While the fast-food chicken chain has inflamed gay organizations and their supporters nationwide, many companies are going out of their way to court those groups.
J.C. Penney this year hired lesbian talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman and featured same-sex couples in its catalogs. Kraft Foods recently posted a photo of a rainbow-hued Oreo cookie to its Facebook page.
Bank of America and nearly 40 other companies offer tax relief to gay employees, triple the number of firms with the same option last year. In Washington state, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his wife last month donated $2.5 million to back a gay-marriage ballot initiative already endorsed by Microsoft, Starbucks and Nike.
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It’s not hard to see why. Estimates peg the self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) demographic at about 3.8 percent of the American population, or roughly 9 million people. Their buying power is expected to reach $790 billion this year, according to Witeck Communications, a marketing firm specializing in LGBT issues.
They’re not shy about spending, dropping more than $60 a week each on restaurants, according to a 2010 report from Community Marketing.
Nationwide, more Americans now support same-sex marriage than oppose it, according to recent surveys from the Pew Research Center. Backing is particularly strong among young people, a demographic that advertisers are keen to reach.
As customers shift with the cultural tide, many formerly conservative companies are doing the same. “Corporate America is definitely following the trends, reading the tea leaves,” said Jason Snyder, an assistant professor at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. “It’s more symbolic of what’s happening in society: that supporting gay marriage is becoming a less risky or taboo position.”
Gay consumers also tend to react forcefully to slights. They pay attention to which companies promote diversity and lend support to same-sex causes, according to the Community Marketing report.
And the LGBT population is often highly organized in using Twitter and Facebook to pull together mass petitions and boycotts within hours. More than 14,000 people signed up on Facebook for “National Same Sex Kiss Day” at Chick-fil-A on Friday, an event arranged mostly online.
Supporters of Chick-fil-A and president Cathy, who told a Baptist publication last month that the company is “guilty as charged” of opposing same-sex unions, have also used social media. Customers packed the chains’ more than 1,600 locations nationwide Wednesday after Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, dubbed it “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on Facebook.
But consumer perception of Chick-fil-A, one of the nation’s best-ranked fast-food outlets this year, has sunk to its lowest in at least two years since Cathy’s comments, according to research group YouGov. Meanwhile, positive buzz about J.C. Penney has jumped among its core female audience since DeGeneres came on as the retailer’s spokeswoman, the research firm said.
Other companies have either stayed quiet or made a point to separate executives’ feelings from official corporate policy.
Not long after Cathy’s comments, Chick-fil-A sent a statement confirming its “biblically based principles” but pledging to “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”