Jun 2, 2023

Target Pride Month merch attack was an astroturfing campaign, not a boycott



For weeks, Target has been at the center of a transphobic frenzy whipped up by the disinformation sphere. The crime? Selling Pride merch. Or in the words of the alt-right, “grooming” and “indoctrinating” children into the “LGBT ideology."

This is so over the top and ridiculous that Target executives should have laughed in their faces. Instead, Target pulled some of the Pride merch off its shelves in response to growing safety concerns for their employees.

“Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior,” Target said in a statement to the press.

But who created these “volatile circumstances”? A handful of disinformation outlets.

The attack on Target was an astroturfing campaign

Let’s get this straight: Target was not at the center of a “national boycott” or a “customer backlash,” as you may have heard.

What really happened is a handful of hate groups and outlets worked together to force one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly companies in America to pull its Pride items ahead of Pride Month under the threat of violence. That threat of violence was manufactured by none other than the hate groups and disinformation outlets themselves.

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In fact, the whole thing was homegrown using a three-step astroturfing campaign:

1. Manufacture their own backlash. For example, Daily Wire employee Candace Owens fanned her own flames: “Do not shop at Target or else you're gay and you're a pervert,” she said. Another Daily Wire host Matt Walsh chimed in on Twitter: “If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know that they’ll pay a price. It won’t be worth whatever they think they’ll gain. First Bud Light and now Target. Our campaign is making progress. Let’s keep it going.”

2. Cover the backlash as a news story. Daily Wire started covering the outrage drummed up by their own team as if it were a news story. “The Tide Is Turning: Prominent Christians Talk Effective Target And Bud Light Boycotts,” reads one headline. “Fans Urge Chip And Joanna Gaines To Cut Ties With Target Amid Pride Collection Backlash,” reads another.

3. Create a network effect. The Federalist, Breitbart, Daily Mail, and dozens of other disinformation outlets pumped out hundreds of fake news stories about Target to amplify their own homegrown “boycott.”

When Target announced they would pull their Pride merch, it was under the threat of violence and vandalism fueled by this network’s lies and hateful rhetoric. In fact, people were filming themselves vandalizing Pride Month displays at Target and harassing Target employees, with no end in sight.

This was simply no ordinary boycott.

The business model: threatening “woke” brands with violence

As Pride Month begins, we’re urging advertisers to take a moment to understand and learn to recognize how these outlets operate.

Their “win” with Target has emboldened them, and they’ve already moved on to harassing The North Face, Kohl's, and even the notoriously homophobic Chick-Fil-A. (Did you know Chick-Fil-A has a DEI department?)

It’s all part of a “culture war” and a “backlash” that they’ve invented for themselves to earn ad revenues. After all, every pageview equals money.

However, it’s not clear that the executives of these companies understand that they’re being duped. And that’s why as these campaigns pick up speed, our call to action this Pride Month is to be LOUD and PROUD. Double down on your support of the LGBTQ+ community by letting the companies in the line of attack know that you support Pride Month.

They need to hear from you.

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