Updated: Christian Group Calls for Gap Boycott

The American Family Association is calling on consumers to boycott Gap Inc. and its brands, which include Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, this holiday season. The Christian organization alleges that the retailer’s ads downplay the word “Christmas.”

The boycott, according to the AFA, is in response to Gap’s holiday advertising and in-store promotions over the years, which have stayed away from recognizing any specific religion. For instance, last year’s campaign was themed “Merry Gap-mas,” substituting the chain’s name for Christ’s. The AFA—which had boycotted other retailers like Sears and Target in the past for their holiday ads—is singling out Gap this year. The AFA is planning to release a “Naughty and Nice” list of retailers who address Christmas and those who don’t.

Randy Sharp, a rep for the AFA, said that a Gap rep sent the group an e-mail alerting them to this year’s campaign, via Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, that does use the word “Christmas,” but Sharp said the ad, which features the line “Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go Solstice,” and beckons consumers to “86 the rules,” is offensive. “It looks like an attempt to patronize people,” he said. “What they did was almost make a joke of it.” The ads can be seen here.

A Gap rep, however, said the advertising mentions different holidays because the brand “is and has always been an inclusive, accessible brand in which everyone can participate and we embrace diversity across all of our customers, and more importantly respect their beliefs as individuals . . . We focus our marketing on the joys of the holiday season as a whole.”

The retailer claims that it was unable to share its TV or marketing strategy with the AFA because it hadn’t been publicly announced when the group started the boycott. Gap issued a statement, saying that the Gap marketing campaign includes the use of Christmas in its commercials. Later this month, Old Navy will unveil its holiday ad, which will also mention Christmas, per the company.

“Our brands have periodically used Christmas in their holiday season advertising. With this year’s Gap and Old Navy ads, we hope that the AFA will update its Web site, which has claimed that Gap Inc. ‘refused to use the word Christmas in its advertising,'” Gap’s statement reads. “This is untrue.”

The boycott is running from Nov. 1 through Christmas Day, and the AFA is urging consumers to sign a Gap pledge on its site.

When asked if retailers might have a legitimate business reason to avoid using the word Christmas in ads, Sharp replied that he thought it was a valid concern, but cited polls showing very few people are actually offended by the use of the term. “The problem lies when you try to be politically correct and offend 80 percent or so of consumers,” he said. “The reality is, most people are shopping for Christmas gifts.”