​#LoveWins: How Twitter rescued Old Navy's interracial ad

Last Updated May 3, 2016 2:32 PM EDT

America's demographic fabric is changing, and marketers are taking note by increasingly portraying diverse families in their ads.

But as a new Old Navy advertisement is demonstrating, such campaigns may not be embraced by everyone, although Americans are increasingly lending their support to brands that embrace inclusivity.


The brouhaha started when the apparel maker on Friday tweeted an image of an interracial family wearing its clothes, unleashing negative comments from some people espousing racist views.

.@OldNavy Stop pushing race mixing, you degenerates. #OldNavy #SoniaSyngal #BoycottOldNavy

— End Cultural Marxism (@genophilia) May 2, 2016

Then Twitter fought back. Supporters of Old Navy's ad campaign, including many interracial families and friends, tweeted messages with the hashtag #LoveWins, a term that went viral last year after the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling. Fans of Old Navy's message took the hashtag to heart and tweeted messages of support as well as personal photos showing their own diverse families.

American families are increasingly diverse, with Pew Research Center finding that 12 percent of newlyweds in 2013 married someone of a different race, a record high. Add in same-sex couples and the share of diverse families in the U.S. is even larger.

But the advertising industry has lagged that reality, with relatively few commercials showing families of different races or same-sex relationships.

"The shift in the American family landscape is historic, and interracial families are only one part of the new normal. We're seeing more households with parents who are single, co-habitating, LGBTQ, or which include stay-at-home dads," said Julie Michaelson, head of global sales at parenting website BabyCenter. "Some brands are nervous about embracing this new reality, concerned about backlash."

Hey @OldNavy, my family and I thank you for the diversity in this ad! #LoveWins, no matter the color ❤️ pic.twitter.com/TjgYUPMGu4

— KHARY PENEBAKER (@kharyp) May 1, 2016

Controversy over portraying interracial families in advertising is nothing new. In 2013, Cheerios faced a similar situation when it aired an ad featuring a biracial little girl who asks her white mother about the cereal's heart-healthy benefits. The girl rushes to her napping father and pours a box of Cheerios over his chest.

The spot produced a backlash against interracial couples and prompted parent company General Mills (GIS) to shut down the comments section for the ad's YouTube video. In that case, fans also clearly won out, with the ad earning far more "likes" than "dislikes."

Old Navy, which is owned by Gap (GPS), didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. It's likely the company was aware that the rewards of promoting racial inclusivity far outweighs the risk of alienating some shoppers, given that a recent study from BabyCenter and YouGov found that 80 percent of parents like seeing diverse families in marketing campaigns.

About four in 10 families are diverse when it comes to race, gender or household formation, such as single-parent households or families with stay-at-home dads, the study found.

"The proportion of traditional family types is shrinking," the BabyCenter research report noted. "Marketers who want to connect with parents today cannot afford to ignore this shift."

As BabyCenter's Michaelson noted, the #LoveWins outpouring "speaks to the importance of these types of marketing campaigns. When done authentically, standing for inclusivity will spark a groundswell of support."