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Following its surprisingly controversial Cheerios commercial featuring a mixed-race family, cereal maker General Mills (NYSE: GIS ) came out in support of Gay Pride Month using its Lucky Charms marshmallow rainbow as its rallying flag.
Complete with a website designed around the hashtag #LuckyToBe, where cereal lovers can share stories of why you're "lucky to be you," and a commercial that extols the virtues of individual uniqueness, General Mills continues to be progressive in its ideals.
It's not really a new position the cereal maker has taken, as it has been an advocate in favor of alternative lifestyles for some time, speaking out last year against a Minnesota constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality as well as supporting workplace protections to the LGBT community in testimony before the U.S. Senate and in a company blog post.
Yet for all that, its ad campaign and marketing efforts are surprisingly devoid of any specific reference to LGBT individuals, which apparently is by design. In an interview with industry trade site BakeryandSnacks.com, General Mills said the campaign is not really about any one group and it wants to be inclusive of all individuals.
Where companies used to keep their views on social mores to themselves, these days corporations are very publicly wearing them on their sleeves. Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX ) CEO Howard Schultz pushed back at its annual shareholder meeting against the notion that its stance in favor of same-sex marriage hurt company profits, telling the investor who'd posed the question:
If you feel respectfully that you can get a higher return than the 38% that you got last year, it's a free country. You can sell your shares at Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.
Last year the old Kraft snack foods company (now Mondelez International) stirred up controversy by posting a picture of a rainbow Oreo to its Facebook page. J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) has also come in for sustained criticism for hiring openly gay entertainer Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman, and Whole Foods Markets (NASDAQ: WFM ) CEO John Mackey has long considered inclusiveness as part of his "conscious capitalism" credo.
General Mills' efforts show it's willing to tackle large social issues with its marketing, and it's commendable that the company is supportive of a more inclusive society, but it does risk alienating a sizable portion of its consumers who might not agree with its public stance.
While proponents of the positions may believe letting those who disagree go elsewhere is best in the long run, as the very incendiary reaction to Chick-fil-A's CEO comments about same-sex marriage along with Mackey's criticism of Obamacare showed, serving up a bowl of politics may not always sit well with consumers.
Companies should realize there may come a time when their advocacy creates a backlash that sours the milk.
As the debate over social issues shows, retail is undergoing a sea change and only those companies that are the most forward-looking and capable will survive. Investors who understand the new landscape will be handsomely rewarded for their foresight. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.