2023’s Pride Month is almost over, and it should be no surprise that it’s seen its share of brand-related controversy. That controversy’s gone in some unusual directions this year, not the least of which came when the Texas Family Project tweeted “We take no pleasure in reporting that @CrackerBarrel has fallen.”
Leave aside the meme potential for a moment…actually don’t. It’s too delightful to pass up. Seriously, google “Cracker Barrel has fallen”. We’ll wait.
Back? OK cool. So…what caused this panicked announcement about one of the pillars of Southern chain cuisine? This tweet:
As it turns out, Cracker Barrel “caved to the mob” some time ago. But have they gone beyond empty symbolism? Let’s look at a few pointers and see.
Take another look at that Cracker Barrel photo. What do you see? A painted rocking chair on a porch. The front porch is fundamental to Cracker Barrel’s brand – and it’s at the heart of their Pride efforts as well. They’ve been consistent about using both the imagery and language of the porch, as we see here:
Beyond the idea of the porch, Cracker Barrel has centered their inclusive language on the concept of hospitality. Inclusion is, to put it mildly, a bit of a reach for a brand whose very essence is nostalgia of a time and place that was very far from inclusive, but true hospitality basically requires “ensuring that every member of our team and every guest feels at home, feels cared for like family, and feels like they belong.” So at least in theory, Cracker Barrel is being even more true to their brand by being inclusive, including by reaching out during Pride month.
Imagery and language are all well and good, but they’re as performative as a simple logo change without meaningful action. So how is Cracker Barrel – a company that was openly hostile towards LGBTQ+ employees not so long ago – doing on this front now? The Human Rights Campaign currently rates them 80/100, with full marks in the sub-categories of Workforce Protections and Supporting an Inclusive Culture & Corporate Social Responsibility and points deducted for Inclusive Benefits. So not perfect, but a far cry from where they were.
One of the most vital ways to see how a brand truly feels about inclusivity (particularly where the LGBTQ+ community is concerned) is its response to criticism of its efforts in that direction. As of this post, Cracker Barrel hasn’t wavered in its Pride messaging or retreated from its moves towards greater inclusivity towards employees despite calls for boycotts by self-appointed guardians of moral virtue. That’s not only a welcome contrast with Bud Light and other brands this year, it’s a marked shift from just a decade ago, when the chain pulled Duck Dynasty merchandise from its shelves only to put it back after customer backlash.
So what should we make of Cracker Barrel in 2023? Are their efforts just more rainbow-washing? Some say so. But it’s equally fair to say that sustained, substantive, multi-year movement in the right direction is something to celebrate rather than denigrate.
Of course, this has just been a look at one brand. And there are a couple of additional bits of advice one might share if you’re curious about how to truly move beyond rainbow-washing – namely, be focused and be willing to keep it up after June’s over. But the takeaway we should get here is that even the unlikeliest of brands can make the jump…if they’re acting in good faith. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to talk about how your brand can do it.