15 brands that went ‘woke’ in 2023 – but did any actually go broke?
In the ever-evolving landscape of inclusivity, 2023 brought a parade of brands daring to dip their toes into the pool of progressivism, much to the chagrin of the anti-woke brigade.
In a world where even a coffee chain’s fruit-juice makers weren’t safe from finding themselves in the crosshairs of anti-woke crusaders, the absurdity reached stratospheric levels. Let’s not forget the online hate parade orchestrated by keyboard warriors whenever a brand dared to showcase anything other than the traditional white, straight and cis-focused advertising.
It’s a peculiar dance where progress meets resistance, and, this year, it seemed no brand was safe from being accused of going “woke” and facing the wrath and threatened boycotts from alt-right and anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, groups, influencers and social commentators.
While we’ve lost count of all the brands that found themselves on the end of boycotts, here are 15 of the “most woke” brands of 2023.
Probably the loudest of all the incoherent “they went woke” yelling this year was aimed at Bud Light after the brand sent trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney one can of beer with her face on it.
Kid Rock literally took aim at cases of Bud Light (but now is drinking it again), bars refused to stock the beer and even Ron DeSantis, the Republican presidential hopeful and governor of Florida, threatened to take legal action against parent company Anheuser-Busch.
The result? Bud Light “went broke” as it slipped to the second best-selling beer in the US.
The US retailer released an LGBTQ+-themed collection ahead of Pride month in June that featured rainbow accessories, tuck-friendly swimwear and collaborations with queer creators.
After the items hit the shelves, Target soon faced harassment from ultra-conservative groups and politicians and quickly capitulated, deciding to remove or hide displays at the back of stores. The company’s chief executive, Brian Cornell, said the decision was made to protect the “safety and wellbeing of employees.”
Target is back in the anti-woke mob’s bad books now that inclusive Christmas merchandise is on sale.
Much like Bud Light, Target saw profits and sales slump as not only bigots stopped shopping there, but many from the queer community did too in protest of the brand not backing their LGBTQ+ collaborators.
No stranger to boycotts and backlash, the sports apparel giant found itself in the anti-trans crosshairs after partnering with Dylan Mulvaney. As part of a paid partnership with the brand, the actress shared pictures of herself on Instagram wearing Nike women’s leggings and a sports bra.
Almost immediately, both she and Nike were subject to trolling, boycotts and even a brief TikTok trend of people burning clothes. Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies described the partnerships as a “kick in the teeth” and Caitlyn Jenner criticised Nike for “going woke.”
Nike stood their ground and continued to support Mulvaney.
Nike’s worldwide revenue for the year to August is estimated at more than $51 billion (£40 billion), a $4.5 billion (£3.5 billion) increase – more than nine per cent – from the previous year, so it’s safe to say Nike did not “go broke.”
The North Face
Anti-LGBTQ+ pundits hounded popular outdoors brand The North Face after it partnered with drag queen Pattie Gonia for a Summer of Pride campaign for the second successive year.
“Hi, it’s me Pattie Gonia, a real-life homosexual,” the drag artist said in the cheeky advert. “I’m here with The North Face to help you come out… in nature with us.”
The campaign even caught the attention of congresswoman and Trump fanatic Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said that she’d only be buying “generic brand clothing” in future, to avoid “brands sexually exploiting children.”
The North Face refused to bow down to the anti-woke mob, saying: “We recognise the opportunity our brand has to shape the future of the outdoors and we want that future to be a more accepting and loving place. We’re partnering with Pattie because we believe the outdoors are for everyone.”
Normally, we’d suggest haters go take a hike, but, clearly, the outdoors are gay. So, maybe not.
The UK-based home improvement retailer got caught up in a backlash after the company’s chief operating officer, Fraser Longden, said anti-trans activists were not “welcomed in our stores”.
The comment drew the ire of Sharron Davies (again) and the X/Twitter commentator James Esses, who described the comment as an “absolute outrage.”
In this case, Wickes went broke but just a bit – share prices fell by five per cent soon after the backlash kicked off.
Wickes is no stranger to criticism, with the brand also facing backlash for its trans-inclusive stance after its float at the 2022 Brighton Pride parade had a banner that read “No LGB without the T.”
Razor and shaving company Harry’s faced calls for a boycott in August after anti-trans critics discovered a paid partnership campaign on Instagram with trans influencer Luke Wesley Pearson from June 2022.
More than a year after Pearson celebrated his first Pride with facial hair, the advert drew the wrath of anti-trans activist Matt Walsh on X/Twitter, while the gender-critical movement called for – yes, you guessed it – a boycott.
Harry’s co-founder and co-chief executive Andy Katz-Mayfield fuelled further criticism for using terms such as birthing and non-birthing parent while speaking about inclusive parental leave policies.
Considering that Harry’s value has been put at about $2 billion (£1.57 billion) in the past, they don’t seem to have had a close shave with any administrators.
Bigots went clucking mad in May when they discovered Chik-fil-A had managed the bare minimum when it came to diversity quotas.
The fast-food giant, which is planning a return to the UK – expansion not usually being a sign of going broke – has previously been unpopular with the LGBTQ+ community after its CEO Dan Cathy made a series of comments opposing marriage equality in 2012. Even so, the brand was accused of “going woke” after hiring a vice-president of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Apparently, making sure marginalised groups have a chance of an inclusive and equitable workplace is just too much for ultra-conservatives, even when it comes to chicken burgers.
Iconic jeans brand Levi’s, part of Levi & Strauss Co. fell victim to anti-woke outrage after a video from 2019, featuring two androgynous creators talking about the freedom they find in their individual style, resurfaced.
The apparent moral compass of the hard-line right took to X in droves to decry the brand for encouraging people to feel liberated in clothing choices.
Levi Strauss president and chief executive Chip Bergh has spoken out to support the brand’s gender-neutral line, saying: “There is definitely consumer appetite for that, and we’re there for that.”
Coffee chain Costa Coffee caused an uproar in the gender-critical movement after a Costa van featured a mural including an illustration of a shirtless person with top surgery scars and blue hair.
The hashtag #BoycottCostaCoffee was shared widely on social media and even inspired two gender-critical activists to lunch at Marks & Spencer, which itself was ironic given that M&S is known for having trans-inclusive policies, including gender-neutral fitting rooms (see below).
Marks & Spencer
In addition to the outrage Marks & Spencer faced in 2022 for their gender-inclusive policies, the retailer added a further log to the fire recently when their annual Christmas advert was the first to ruffle the feathers of the go-woke-go-broke mob.
The playful ad, which focused on people doing what they wanted to do, not obligated to do, was bizarrely interpreted as “woke” and “trying to cancel Christmas”. Some even decried the brand for daring to feature gay and Black people.
Needless to say, M&S aren’t exactly going out of business tomorrow.
Let’s not forget that the anti-woke police are not just found in North America and the UK. Transphobes on the internet raged at an advert posted by Starbucks in India that featured parents meeting their transgender daughter.
While the ad, initially posted on X, promoted the coffee house chain as an accepting and inclusive place, it unsurprisingly caused an uproar on planet TERF and calls for a boycott were quick to follow.
As time moves fast (or slow) in the TERF time continuum, the gender-critical movement applauded and promoted the chain after a trans employee was fired in England for allegedly confronting a transphobic customer.
UK-based fruit juice and smoothie maker Innocent was subjected to an X pile-on in May after they posted a thread about gender diversity in which they asked the trans charity Mermaids: “What’s OK to say?”
The company – owned largely by Coca-Cola since 2013 – pulled the thread, saying it had received “lots of comments that weren’t in line with our values”, after TERFs and conservatives took to their keyboards to whinge.
In a follow-up post, Innocent said the company had many groups that act as a safe space for employees to share their experiences around protected characteristics.
The purveyor of delicious (and apparently gay) cereals and snacks, Kellogg’s, found itself the target of Stephen Miller, the anti-immigration and anti-trans former aide to Donald Trump, who accused the brand of going woke and “politicising and sexualising its products.”
The offence? Well, that would be drag icon RuPaul on a box of Cheez-It crackers, and famous company mascot Tony the Tiger posing for a picture with TikTok influencer, and the subject of a lot of the outrage on this list, Dylan Mulvaney.
Not to be outdone, Chaya Raichik, the creator of Libs of TikTok, called for a boycott of the other super gay rainbow-coloured cereal Froot Loops after the brand offered resources on diversity, equity and inclusion in Canada.
Raichik claimed Kellogg’s “wants to indoctrinate your children with breakfast cereal” and urged followers to “stop giving them your money.”
The company shot back with a greeeaaat response saying: “Our aspiration is to better reflect the diversity of our consumers and to strengthen our inclusive culture. We are committed to compliance with all applicable employment laws and we have policies in place that prohibit workplace discrimination.”
Kellogg’s wasn’t the only food brand to sour the taste buds of the alt-right. Raichick and her anti-LGBTQ+ minions also called for a boycott of Skittles, another confectionary known for its rainbow colours, after the brand revealed a pro-LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign.
Raichik’s Libs of TikTok X account accused the “taste the rainbow” brand of going “completely woke” by designing a packet that highlighted trans joy and the BLM movement.
Apparently, Raichik and her tasteless following prefer their candy, cereals and snacks to be off-colour.
Dr. Martens, the footwear brand popular with queer folk, punks and the working class, found itself trying to get stomped on by anti-trans pundits after one pair of boots had a transgender man painted on them.
As part of a give-away, queer artist Jess Vosseteig customised a one-off pair with a design celebrating top scars.
The pair of white boots drew the anger of Chaya Raichik, yes, again, and Oli London – best known for having plastic surgeries to make him look like BTS star Jimin. Tiffany Justice, the co-founder of Moms of Liberty, also chipped in, comparing top surgery to the “amputation of healthy limbs”.
Despite the online hate, Doc Marten’s got a lot of love on social media with one post reading: “Docs, but gayer.” The company reportedly had a revenue of about £1.25 billion ($1.59 billion) this fiscal year – an increase of 10 per cent compared with 2022 – to boot!
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