How Hilton, Barefoot Wines and Target Rise Above to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion

Consumers reward organizations that reflect their values

Mean tweets. Toxic comments. Public relations trainwrecks. Unhappy customers. Lost revenue. Divided communities. These are just some of the things that come to mind regarding the raging culture wars.

Culture wars are bad for business, and companies know it. But more importantly, culture wars are bad for our communities and serve as an unnecessary burden in an already burdensome 2022. With politics, culture and commerce so intractably linked, how can a brand rise above the fray?

All brands can help themselves by taking the moral high ground, standing firm and doing the right thing. Consumers remember and reward brands that share their values. Below are three concrete examples of brands making the right choice and reaping the rewards for it.

Hilton Worldwide understands the importance of inclusion

Widening the spectrum of people you welcome only increases your customer base. Emotionally intelligent brands know that a wider net catches more fish. Inclusion is good for business.

It’s been historically difficult for same-sex couples to book weddings at traditional venues. There’s multiple accounts of large hotel brands and venues turning away these couples, excluding them from the same services and experiences heterosexual couples enjoyed.

Meanwhile, Hilton Worldwide proactively courted and openly welcomed LGBTQ+ couples to its brand before marriage equality became the law of the land in all 50 states, becoming the first national hotel brand to welcome the LGBTQ+ community and their families.

As part of its campaign, Hilton sought to normalize gay weddings when the hotel chain hosted and publicized same-sex weddings happening at several of its iconic properties. This act did not come without the possibility of becoming caught in a culture war, but Hilton followed its north star of inclusivity and the skies did not fall.

Here is a look at the wedding Hilton hosted for Supreme Court plaintiffs, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. The couple sued and won back the right to marry after Prop 8 in California stripped couples of the right to marry. They were married by their lawyers, who ironically enough were adversaries in the historic Bush v. Gore election lawsuit, proving that love and kindness can rise above politics and prejudice.

Today the hotel brand remains the preferred choice for many same-sex couples and their families. 

Barefoot Wines encourages and embraces diversity

Inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups is a great way to grow your team. Hiring and spotlighting diverse faces from your brand immediately makes your brand more accessible to more people. And a diverse staff gives your brand more insight into various perspectives, allows you to anticipate shifting attitudes, and broadens the ways you build new products and services to better serve consumers.

Having that diverse team at all levels, including leadership, means that you can build a diversity strategy. Another brand that has stood up and stood out in staying out of the culture wars and standing for what it believes in is Barefoot Wines, one of the largest brands in the Gallo Winery portfolio.

Barefoot Wine has been a longstanding ally to the LGBTQ+ community, making its first donation to an LGBTQ+ charity in 1988. How has this brand been reaching out for so long? Because of one of its earliest leaders, openly LGBTQ+ brand ambassador Randy Arnold—and a long list of openly LGBTQ+ staffers and allies—have built the enormously successful brand.

In addition to the hundreds of LGBTQ+ events around the world that Barefoot Wine has sponsored over the years, the brand launched its first-ever documentary called “One Stride: Chosen Family,” featuring stories of chosen families that included an 82-year-old LGBTQ activist, two transgender artists, and an employee and her wife. That remarkable documentary short debuted at Outfest, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ film festival, based in Los Angeles.

Told through the lens of best friends who become each other’s surrogate families, Barefoot invited audiences into their lives. By bringing diversity into brand communications, Barefoot clearly stated that its brand stood with these diverse and LGBTQ+ community members. Barefoot Wine followed its north star that rose above the culture wars.

For communities that are often excluded from the mainstream, seeing themselves represented in your advertising efforts lets people know that your brand hears their concerns, values their perspective and wants their business. Barefoot’s continuous commitment to underserved communities throughout the years has firmly associated Barefoot with positive change and a brand worth consumer loyalty.

Target hires diverse staff

The inclusion of one group does not need to mean the exclusion of another. Target is a prime example of a brand that has maintained a diverse customer base across a massive geographical footprint. Despite its diverse consumer base and the ease at which brands haven fallen into culture wars, Target’s clear and definitive brand identity stance serves the retailer well. 

First, Target hires diverse employees and empowers them to influence their organization’s decisions. Target formed the Pride+ Business Council task to ensure LGBTQ+ members are represented and welcomed in its stores. As stated above, a diverse staff provides your brand adaptability and insight into a broader consumer cohort.

Actually taking those staffers’ perspectives into account gives your brand actionable steps to serving them better. No one can argue with Target’s profitability as one of the most diverse and widespread retailers in the U.S. and abroad.

Brands like Target make the choice to lean into our shared values by keeping a clear eye not on the left or the right, but rather on the right vs. the wrong. Companies must decide where their moral compass is directing them and follow that north star that defines a brand’s values. When a brand finds itself caught in the middle, it often seems the brand must choose between doing what’s best for the bottom line and the very consumers it serves.

At R&CPMK, we think this is a false choice. A multi-national media company shouldn’t be debating on whether to support their LGBTQ+ base or the politicians providing it a tax break. A food brand doesn’t have to decide whether to sacrifice profits over reducing plastic waste. A national quick-service restaurant need not decide between supporting its employee’s reproductive health over losing customers.

Consumers reward brands that reflect their values. Brands can help themselves simply by doing what’s in the public good and reap the goodwill they sow. Doing the right thing and increasing your brand’s bottom line aren’t mutually exclusive in an inclusive world.

Stephen F. Macias serves as president, multicultural marketing and communications at R&CPMK. In the role, Macias leads overarching strategy for the agency’s multicultural marketing and communications division, as well as related efforts for a collection of R&CPMK’s talent and Fortune 500 brand clients.