You’ve heard it before – ‘Go woke, go broke’ and this month we’ve seen two classic examples of large corporations trying to be trendy and ending up red-faced and in the red.

It began with the multinational athletics wear brand Nike which contracted transgender blogger Dylan Mulvaney to promote its sportswear brand.  As I write these words and you read them we’re all probably seeing a potential minefield here, right?  ‘Transgender’ is technically a person who has made the decision to change sex through surgery and hormonal treatment, generally from a long-held conviction that they were somehow born into the wrong body.  This used to be a major decision involving a good deal of psychological therapy and counselling, a long period of living as the other sex to adjust to a new life and lifestyle before subjecting themselves to what is an extreme series of surgical procedures, along with a course of hormone treatment and on-going psychological sessions.  It was comparatively rare till recently for those reasons.  However, there is an alarming trend currently in vogue whereby all the surgery and hormone treatment has gone out of the window and all anyone has to do to change their sex is state that they wish to be known as their new gender of choice forthwith and hey presto, it’s done.  No body-altering surgery, no hormones, just change your clothes and pick a new name.  For fairly obvious reasons, it’s a controversial issue, not least in the field of sports where many female competitors suddenly find themselves pitted against a male athlete whose only claim to womanhood is that they have changed their dress style and their name.  Ergo, they still have their original male upper body strength and an excess of testosterone which naturally gives them a huge competitive edge over genuine female athletes, even robbing some deserved also-rans of Olympic medals.  This is now currently being redressed around the world but to date is still permitted by governing sports bodies in many countries.

So given the controversy and obvious unfairness, which is plain for most to see, why on earth would an iconic sportswear brand decide it’s a good idea to climb right in there and take the other side, not least because Dylan Mulvaney is the classic would-be female claimant who still has all his male accoutrements, to put it politely.  Even more controversially, it has been pointed out by many critics that Mulvaney’s build is more boy-like than manly, which is an issue in itself, particularly when his promotional Nike video showed him prancing round in lycra shorts and sports bra in an insulting parody of female exercise, much to the disgust of many women media pundits as well as professional athletes; and why would a person without breast tissue even require a sports bra in the first place?  Way to go shifting that women’s-wear, Nike!

But the ink was hardly dry on his Nike contract when yet another major multinational brand, that of Anheuser-Busch, makers of the famous Budweiser beer brand, also decided to sign up this man-child to promote their Bud Light lager.  This time Mulvaney put out a video of himself in evening dress, full make-up and trademark Audrey Hepburn hairstyle in a parody of her Holly Golightly character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, bizarrely sitting in a bath,  can of lager in hand, even though Truman Capote’s creation was most definitely a champagne and cocktails type of girl and petite Audrey Hepburn likewise was not known for swilling lager.
So how do you suppose all this malarkey went down with the paying public?  Unsurprisingly Nike was faced with calls to all women to boycott their products.  Olympic swimming medallist Sharron Davies said “The ad feels like a parody of what women are. In the past, it was always seen as an insult to say ‘run like a girl,’ and here we’ve got someone behaving in a way that’s very unsporty and very unathletic. And it’s so frustrating when only 1% of the USA sponsorship dollar goes to females in sport. That Nike would do this feels like a kick in the teeth.” Even transgender athlete Kaitlin Jenner took to Twiter to call it ‘an outrage’.  Rumours also surged that Basketball Hall of Fame star and American sports icon, Michael Jordan had abruptly ended his partnership with Nike, a partnership which had lasted since 1984, though this has not been authenticated.

As for Budweiser, sales plummeted as did the value of the company’s worth, with parent company Anheuser-Busch seeing $6 billion wiped from its market value virtually overnight.  Stunned into silence, the company declined to comment or respond to media enquiries for a week, after which they quietly released a new ad of their own, showing one of their signature Clydesdale dray horses trotting down an all-American high street, with male workers engrossed in manly tasks and others raising the stars and stripes on a flagpole; there’s even a shot of the famous St. Louis arch, that city being the company’s home base.   The message was clear.  Sorry about the mix-up, folks – we’re as Yankee Doodle as apple pie and our beer is what real men drink. God bless America!   Meanwhile two high-ranking company executives were reported to be on gardening leave.

The message here is crystal clear.   If you’re a mainstream brand with a mainstream client-base, your marketing should be designed to appeal to the mainstream.  Navigating away from your core customers in an effort to be ‘inclusive’ is a potential minefield and Nike and Bud both managed to blow themselves up.  And nowhere is this more obvious than in Mid-West & Bible Belt USA where it’s still cool to be ‘a good ol’ boy’ who doesn’t want to be associated with the transgender community just because he orders a Bud Light to cut back on calories or alcohol content.  And in the current climate, if you sell women’s sportswear, pitch your marketing towards female athletes and gym bunnies.  The sight of a male body – albeit one with an adolescent appearance – prancing round in women’s clothing just looks like you’re taking the Michael or in this case, the Michaela!  

So here’s my suggestion to Nike.  Time to change your logo from this ✔ to this✘!