21 Brands That Lost Their Spark After Going “Woke”

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Going “woke” will not make all companies go broke, but it could result in a massive backlash. Similarly, brands with tendencies to pander to social issues or those trying to make social statements are often met with calls for boycotts. For some companies, taking a stand is important if it fits their brand, but when they stop reading the room, things get heated and unpleasant, at least for a while. 

Pink Parcel 


Period subscription service Pink Parcel had an ad campaign in 2018 with a transgender man. The campaign intended to break the stigma, but there is enough stigma for female-born women while they are on their periods, so we should be focusing on settling that issue before turning to the next. 

MyPillow’s election denialism 

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MyPillow’s CEO, Mike Lindell, suffered a significant setback after getting into politics. It was not a simple choice between the left and the right, but strings of promises to show that the 2020 election winner was not President Biden. The company lost one of its major advertising platforms and was dropped by numerous national retailers. 

Pepsi and Kendall Jenner 

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A 2017 short film was short-lived after Pepsi got accused of hijacking a severe racial divide and solving it with young Jenner offering a can of beverage to the police officer. The backlash showed that marketers need an outside perspective, especially if they want to get involved in social justice, which is not something a typical Pepsi consumer truly expects from the company.   

Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney 

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The once most popular beer in the States had one of the most epic fails last April after partnering with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Mulvaney worked with other brands, but no one suffered like Bud Light. This is because beer customers are usually younger men with low to moderate incomes, and they want their favorite beer to reflect their everyday life, or at least some market experts pointed out so. 

Victoria’s Secret’s perfect bodies 

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A decade ago, the lingerie brand launched a campaign for its new bra line with the tagline, The Perfect Body. It gathered Victoria’s Secret angels, but the problem was these images were heavily edited, and all ladies appeared to have the same body shapes – tall and slim. The company apologized for its unhealthy and harmful message. 

Victoria’s Secret’s rebranding 

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In 2018, the lingerie giant turned 180 and went “woke” with an ad featuring transgender and plus-size models. This came after then-chief marketing officer Ed Razek made controversial remarks to Vogue about trans and plus-size models. But there’s more. The company’s rebranding toward feminism did not sit well simply because no one expects a company that shows off Fantasy Bra as a driving force of feminism. 

Starbucks’ “Race Together” 

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The company’s “Race Together” campaign was supposed to spark a national conversation about race relations. Baristas were encouraged to write the slogan on customers’ cups, but all efforts fell flat. For one, people wanted Starbucks to solve its diversity shortcomings while asserting these conversations with customers may be more than Starbucks can handle. People want coffee and to go on with their lives. No one expects a coffee chair to solve centuries-old issues. 

Equinox, SoulCycle and Trump 

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In late 2019, Stephen Ross, the billionaire investor behind SoulCycle and Equinox gym, came under fire over a fundraiser for Donald Trump. SoulCycle defended itself by saying that Ross is a passive investor and did not endorse political fundraising. The biggest issue here was that Equinox and SoulCycle were aligned with the LGBTQ community, so the backlash was inevitable. 

Paramount and Scarlett Johansson

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Casting Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese character in Paramount’s “Ghost in the Shell” movie led to accusations of whitewashing and boycotts and raised questions about Hollywood’s lack of diversity. A year later, it was reported the famous actress accepted the role of transgender man, but she dropped out of the project following backlash. 

SpaghettiOs’ Pearl Harbor

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On the 72nd anniversary of Japan’s attack on the Pearl Harbor base, the canned pasta maker SpaghettiOs shared a tweet featuring its mascot holding an American flag, asking people to remember #PearlHarbor with them. The company apologized, but many were perplexed by its suggestion and wondered who thought it appropriate to use that moment for promotion. 

Snapchat’s “Slap Rihanna or Punch Chris Brown”

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In 2018, the app asked its users whether to slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown. This turned out to be a massive problem since the former couple spent time in court following Brown’s 2009 domestic violence incident that left Rihanna with a bloodied face. 

Gillette and MeToo

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Gillette made its name promoting masculinity, but in 2019, its ad tried to echo the ideals of the #MeToo movement. The problem, according to numerous social media users, was that the ad made it out as if all men do is fight, barbecue, and harass women. Additionally, it made men feel bad, so instead of starting meaningful conversations, it flopped with many accusing the company of going “woke” and pandering to the left wing. 

Honey Birdette and non-binary model 

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Australian lingerie company Honey Birdette used non-binary burlesque performer and model Jake Dupree for its 2023 campaign. The company did not back down despite the backlash. The campaign aimed to push culture forward, but despite the support for the LGBTQ community, Honey Birdette’s primary customers are women. 

Nike and Dylan Mulvaney

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Nike has a long history of successful, controversial ads. When the company partnered with trans influencers to promote Nike bras and leggings, many wondered why it did not find a female-born woman to promote these products. Swimmer Sharron Davies and tennis legend Martina Navratilova asked the same question. Still, the backlash was not as harsh as Bud Light’s. 

McDonald’s W

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The key to advertising is honesty, so when McDonald’s turned their M into W for women for International Women’s Day 2018, people wanted to know how this was helping women. Many asked the company to improve the conditions of female workers instead of using this day to flip one letter. 

Hyundai’s emission problem 

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Back in 2013, Hyundai’s new hydrogen-powered ix35, with 100% water emissions, caused a massive outcry from the public following an ad that showed a man trying to take his own life. The man failed, and no one cared for Hyundai’s green initiative because the ad was a complete failure for obvious reasons. 

The North Face and Pattie Gonia

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The cheeky ad The North Face created with drag queen Pattie Gonia for a Summer of Pride campaign did not cause a significant backlash, but it did ruffle some feathers. The ad would likely go under the radar, but Marjorie Taylor Greene took to X to criticize the brand and told followers not to support brands that exploit children. The company stood its ground despite accusations of going woke. 

Adidas Pride 

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The Adidas collection for Pride 2023 had critics arguing the “woke” brand was trying to erase women. Queer, South African designer Rich Mnisi partnered up with Adidas. The issue was one image, in particular, of a male-presenting model advertising female clothing. Many wondered why not just call it unisex instead of going the Bud Light route. 

Target, the victim of misinformation 

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Target’s 2023 Pride collection faced massive backlash, partly due to false information. The store chain claimed it was selling bathing suits for kids labeled “tuck-friendly.” In reality, these were sold for adults only, though following the calls for boycott, the company faced a $10 billion loss in 10 days. 

Jack Daniels’s woke moment

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Jack Daniels faced calls for boycotts over its 2021 ad featuring drag queens from Ru Paul’s Drag Race. The ad only outraged social media users in 2023, during the height of anti-trans and anti-drag queen rhetoric. The most significant outage came from a “superfan,” Pauly Michaelis, who filmed himself throwing Jack Daniel’s merchandise and setting whiskey on fire while shouting over the company going woke. 

DiGiorno’s response to domestic violence 

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In 2014, Twitter, now X, started conversations about domestic abuse, where people shared stories under the #WhyIStayed hashtag. DiGiorno’s tweet read, #WhyIStayed You had pizza. The company did not understand what the trending hashtag was all about and tried to apologize. Still, people were appalled, and it showed that brands really needed to read the room and social media posts. 

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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.