Brands with Lipstick

This week Tractor Supply Company, a large retailer serving rural American consumers announced that it would dump its DEI roles, Pride event sponsorships and also previously committed carbon emissions goals ( ). But just last year, the company was lauded as one of the most inclusive and diverse workplaces by Bloomberg and Newsweek in their national ratings!

What the heck is going on here?

Well, a single loud voice in the form of conservative activist Robby Starbuck assailed the company on Twitter for allowing “Pride” decorations in its offices, funding sex changes and believing in the climate hoax. He called on his followers to rise, send emails to the company and stop buying their stuff. Within weeks, the company did a 180 – changing their corporate values like shades of lipstick for a party night.

In my book, “Branding Between the Ears” (, I have a chapter on “Brands with Purpose” and how a brand can be one. There are three things that matter, really. Companies should direct their giving to causes (a) that are on-brand for them, (b) that they could serve better than their customers can on their own, and (c) those the senior management could commit authentically to.

If they’d read that chapter, they would have discovered before flaming out that they fail all three tests. Their customers (farmers, ranchers, tradesmen, etc.) are conservative – and not that keen on DEI or the climate – particular these days. The company brings nothing special to the table other than a check – which customers can write for themselves to those causes if they want to. And, finally, DEI and climate are not dear-to-the-heart causes for Tractor’s senior management.

Twisting your goals around like dough is great for making pretzels, but not for building your brand. There are many great causes in the world and DEI and climate most certainly are among them. But when you lead a brand, you have to dig deep to find what you truly believe in and is right for your company.

Tractor announced that now they will focus on land and water conservation efforts, rural education, and animal welfare instead.

Let’s hope that they have found the right shade of lipstick for their next party.

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