Marketing the Rainbow

Click on pictures for larger image.


Macy's is one of two divisions owned by Macy's Inc., the other being Bloomingdale's. Macy's operates 728 department store locations in the United States. They have conducted the famous annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City since 1924 and has sponsored the city's annual Fourth of July fireworks display since 1976. The Herald Square flagship store in New York is one of the largest department stores in the world, and covers almost an entire New York City block, featuring about 1.1 million square feet of retail space - valued at a staggering $3 billion.

How it began

In an early attempt at Marketing the Rainbow, Macy put up a display in a window in 2006 in support of Pride, showing “Male mannequins with (apparently) enlarged breasts, one wearing a rainbow skirt”, according to the conservative action group MassResistance (observers wondered if they would have been equally offended had the store used mannequins with flatter chests and slacks). They organized an e-mail and telephone campaign, which seemed to work. Macy took down the mannequins, but left the calendar, much to the dismay of MassResistance.

Macy’s reaction: "We believe in diversity, and our customers are very important to us. But (the display) did offend a few of our customers, and we had to reexamine it." Apparently, they did not care so much about their gay and lesbian customers, and their allies, after all.

CEO Ron Klein then told Boston's In Newsweekly that he regretted the mistake Macy's employees made in removing mannequins and said it was due to "an internal breakdown in communication" and not because of "pressure" from MassResistance. Klein says in his letter, "Historically, our windows dedicated to causes and celebrations have always been executed through the use of text and props such as posters. We traditionally do not feature mannequins in these 'community windows' because the introduction of merchandise has no role in our tributes." Klein's letter would suggest that the mannequins were not even supposed to be there in the first place. Somehow, this does not really sound like an explanation, or an excuse!

Next steps

Things went a bit better in 2008. In the light of the expanding circles of marriage equality, Macy’s created a wedding register aimed at the gay market in California. Their interest in – and support for – marriage equality mirrored and reinforced the acceptance of lesbians and gay men in society.

The text of the Macy's advertisement was also very important:

First comes love. Then comes marriage. And now its a milestone every couple in California can celebrate. Let Macy's Wedding Gift & Registry help you start your new life together.

Importantly: this ad ran in the LA Times – not in a gay magazine! The image, the text and the media outlet all were in sync to show Macy’s intentions to support the developments in California.


In the 2012 LGBT Pride month, HRC was proud to announce a growing partnership with Macy’s. The retailer featured HRC merchandise in a number of its stores throughout the month of June. Featured merchandise included a “Vote Equality” T-shirt, which was displayed prominently in stores during this election year. One hundred percent of proceeds from the partnership went to HRC’s fight for LGBT equality. Macy’s is one of HRC's National Corporate Partners (Bronze level).

Macy’s has scored a perfect 100 score in HRC’s Equality Index for the last couple of years.

Ah! A boycott

Later that year, as part of an advertisement seeking to convince people to join Macy's Star Rewards Program, a Macy's catalogue sent to customers showed a wedding cake with two grooms on top. The cake is stuffed in the back of an automobile with a license plate that reads "I do." The image did not appear in an online version of the company's catalogue. 

Around that same time, J.C. Penney hired Ellen Degeneres as their spokesperson. Both retailers were subsequently boycotted by the likes of One Million Moms. As you can see in my article Boycotts – a boycott by these groups most often has the adverse effect.

The website of addressed Macy’s directly: “In the hopes of making sales, your company has instead offended many customers in the process. The back cover looks like just a regular ad for your wedding registry service, but there is one major difference with the cake topper of two men instead of the traditional man and woman. Just because gay marriage is legal in a few states does not mean this is appropriate marketing. As a conservative customer I will not support it. While your company is a household name, I do not agree with your irresponsible choice of standing behind gay marriage. The homosexual content is highly offensive and not family-friendly advertising. As a consumer, I am asking you to please pull your “two groom” ad immediately and support traditional family values instead of this liberal agenda. My decision to shop in your store depends on it.” (bold is mine).

It’s a good thing that they have observed well, that they have recognized this as gay marketing and have also understood Macy’s intentions by doing so. It’s just a pity that their limited views on freedom obscured their vision.

Macy's reaction

Beth Charlton, a Macy's spokesman told Fox News in a statement: "Macy's proudly serves a large and diverse marketplace, including customers with a wide range of needs and preferences. We strive to embrace customers of all ethnic backgrounds, ages, races, faith traditions, genders and lifestyles through the products we sell and the content of our marketing. Our goal is to be inclusive. Not everything we sell or do will appeal to everyone, but that is the nature of a free society where consumers can make choices of their own”.

A year later, the store in D.C. stepped up its game by sporting a new window decal that “warmly welcomes all couples“ to its wedding and gift registry.

More boycotts

In 2015 the AFA launched a boycott against Macy’s department stores for their support of gay pride events across the country. Here is an amusing excerpt from an urgent announcement on AFA’s website titled “The shocking truth about Macy’s Department Stores”: Let Macy’s know your family does not join in their celebration of sin. Most American families don’t know about the contemptible role of Macy’s department stores in supporting “gay pride” throughout the nation. The radical events and activities of a typical ’pride’ week-end are decadent and highly-sexualized. They are a disgrace to communities and certainly shouldn’t be financially supported by a retailer like Macy’s that claims to serve families.”

The website also presented the debut Love Bravery collection by Lady Gaga & Elton John, “new and only at Macy's”. The collection was designed by the two icons to inspire bravery for a new generation. 25% of the purchase price was donated to the Born This Way Foundation to support its work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation. You could find Love Bravery in a dedicated section of 150 Macy's stores, as well as online, from May through August 2016.

By 2017, Macy’s has not wavered and a section of their website is dedicated to Pride Month (June). The page lists events and parades, under the banner “pride + joy. Join Macy’s as we honor FAMILY + FRIENDS + LOVE + LIFE + EQUALITY + RESPECT in celebrations across the nation.” Strangely enough, the section cannot be found by searching for either gay, lesbian, LGBT, pride or joy, so could only be reached when deeplinked.

Case study: Macy's

Branche: Retail