In the end, it may all be a fuss over nothing. But the news - still developing - that Ford will no longer advertise its Jaguar and Land Rover brands in gay publications seems troubling.
Ford has been under threat of boycott for most of the year by the American Family Association, an anti-gay group run by the Rev. Donald Wildmon. The AFA targeted Ford because a handful of its brands - Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo - cater in some specific way to gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans customers. The brands are frequent sponsors of gay events like Pride celebrations and gay causes, as is the Ford Motor Company in general.
Imagine what would happen if Ford came out with a policy not to advertise on PAX TV after being picketed by militant gay customers. Most Americans would rightly be irked that a political movement was able to curdle the fair and free enterprise of one of the nation's oldest companies because of a religious principle. In this case it's not a straw man meant to start an argument - it's the obverse of what seems to have happened at Ford. Corporations are supposed to be able to provide products and services to the people who need them, and to cultivate those customers in ways they see fit. But Wildmon's group isn't allowing that to happen - and he richly deserves the kind of counter-protests that acting-up and acting-out gays and lesbians have made an art form in the past 35 years. Ford, too, is bringing on the kind of bad PR it really needs to avoid in these dark days in Dearborn.
With luck, it will turn out to be a case of poorly timed PR. Maybe Ford has been cutting so vigorously at Jaguar and Land Rover that the timing of the ad cuts in gay publications is just a coincidence. But Ford initially referred reporters to the AFA, suggesting that it was at least willing to let the group claim a moral victory while the actual machinations behind the scene were less odious. No matter; now that the story is out in the open, Ford has lost control of how the situation ends up smelling.
Plenty of GLBT customers drive Jaguars and Land Rovers - wasn't the new Jaguar "gorgeous" ad campaign subtly targeted to gay drivers, anyway? - and the last thing the brand needs to lose is a devoted audience for its cars. The question is, is the devil in the details - or is it in a back-office deal with a group that's best known for its ineffective boycott of Disney World?
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