I recently ran across an interesting bit of controversy surrounding that funky, edgy, in-your-face corporation ... Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB). It's a good example of how companies can turn challenges into opportunity.

It seems that Campbell Soup ran several ads in a national gay and lesbian magazine, featuring some gay chefs and restaurateurs. In response, one national organization took offense, arguing that the company should pull its ads and urging its audience to make complaints directly to Campbell Soup.

It's an interesting issue to ponder, because advertising is so critical to so many businesses. Even the most tenuous associations in an ad can prove problematic to some segments of the public, even though the company may only be trying to broaden its customer base.

Campbell isn't the first company to face such opposition. Ford (NYSE:F), PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), Home Depot (NYSE:HD), and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) have received similar criticism in the past.

The response
Meanwhile, Campbell Soup responded to the criticism, saying: "We support all types of families, regardless of how they're defined, [and have done so] for more than 100 years. We advertise in a variety of different media outlets that appeal to a broad spectrum of society. That's what we're doing here, and that's what we'll continue to do."

I applaud the company for standing behind its beliefs. But really, it just seems to make good business sense. Some of the press from Campbell's actions is winning it some business, and very possibly more business than it will lose from critics. People are discussing the kerfuffle on many blogs, with many positive comments.

Dollars at stake
Companies may embrace controversy because they feel it's the right thing to do -- or perhaps simply for the money. Especially during an economic downturn, businesses don't want to turn away potential customers. For instance, companies such as Tiffany (NYSE:TIF), The Knot (NASDAQ:KNOT), and Williams-Sonoma (which also owns Pottery Barn) directly benefit from weddings -- regardless of who's getting married. Others, such as travel agents, also benefit.

Over the years, companies have repeatedly broadened their customer base in line with social trends. Ending racial segregation opened new markets for many businesses. Continuing to embrace a diverse culture can lead to increased profits -- even if companies have to deal with a little controversy along the way.

The best companies will continue to find the silver lining in dealing with controversial issues. When they do so successfully, they'll attract, please, and retain many customers, employees and even shareholders -- every public company's three chief constituent groups.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of PepsiCo, McDonald's, and Home Depot. PepsiCo is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Home Depot is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Knot is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.