Viral equals signOn the eve before the Supreme Court was to take up a historic same-sex marriage case (California’s Proposition 8), the Human Rights Campaign posted a red equal sign on their Facebook feed, a sign declaring support for all same sex couples being given the right to marry. The Human Rights Campaign included a call for all gay marriage supporters to also make their Facebook profile images red. Now, just a week after the marriage equality symbol was posted, it boasts over 70,000 shares and a multitude of followers including celebrities, politicians, and businesses.

Profiting From Public Precariousness

One of these supporting businesses is the New York based apparel company Bonobos, who on Tuesday posted their own modification of the equal sign – two pairs of white pants against the red background.

Bonobos pants equal signBud Light featured two parallel Bud Light beer bottles, in the same fashion of HRC’s equal sign. The image amassed 34,000 ‘likes’ and 1,400 comments in 15 hours.

The popular travel agency Orbitz was perhaps the most assertive in its salesmanship, launching itself into the conversation with its own version of the logo, and the slogan, “Travel is sweeter when flavored with love,” boasting their perfect corporate equality index score.

When witnessing the quick spread of HRC’s logo on Facebook and its particular popularity with businesses like the ones mentioned, I was reminded of a blog by CEM’s own Patrick Himes. In it he joins in the mass criticism of a marketing indiscretion by clothing company American Apparel, for attempting to newsjack the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy tragedy. During the peak of the storm, American Apparel sent out an email to all users in storm-affected states, offering 20% off in case “they were bored during the storm”.

While the lessons small businesses can learn from American Apparel’s email marketing slip-up aren’t close to those you could take away from companies like Bonobos, Bud Light, and Orbitz, they are similar in one aspect: an attempt to take advantage of a public state of volatility. If recent polls tell us anything, companies that flash HRC’s now viral logo will see a boost in revenue. These studies suggest that these companies know exactly what they are doing.

Cause Marketing

The social media actions of brands like Bonobos, Bud Light, and Orbitz undoubtedly fall into a relatively new category, called cause marketing. What Nielsen’s 2012 survey confirmed, echoing what other studies have also suggested, is that two thirds of consumers prefer purchasing from brands that give back to society, with nearly half of all consumers saying they are willing to pay extra to support socially-conscious companies. Nielsen confirmed later in the study that 63% of socially-conscious consumers are under the age of 40.

According to a recent Columbia University survey, 81% of young people in the US from the ages of 18-29 are supporters of same-sex marriage. This age group undeniably dominates social media, the platform on which the aforementioned brands chose to acknowledge their support. So while American Apparel showed bad taste and poor strategy in firing off their newsjacked offer, these companies instead showed careful thought and data analysis (and, we hope, some sincerity), and hit a home run as a result.

Does your company use social media and other interactive marketing techniques to boost sales?