Social media has given Internet trolls new leverage to attack brands whenever they issue an ad that they deem “offensive.” It’s unusual, though, when a brand stands firm and essentially blows off the critics.
Such was the case when apparel retailer Old Navy recently posted an advertising image that depicts an interracial couple. The image generated some racist comments on Twitter, including a few threats to boycott (we’ll get to those in a minute), but the apparel brand didn’t buckle.
In a statement to Fortune, it said it is proud of the ad’s message of “diversity and inclusion.”
The ad in question depicts three people, a Caucasian man posing with an African American woman and child. The seemingly-innocuous image was used by Old Navy on Twitter (TWTR) to promote a 30% off sale on Old Navy’s website. It contains no political or social message in the post.
The full tweet can be seen here:
Harmless, right? Not to some on Twitter. One user called it “miscegenation junk” and said he’d “never step in an Old Navy store again.” Another compared it to “pedophilia acceptance propaganda.”
That reaction is similar to what General Mills (GIS) experienced a few years ago when it launched a TV ad campaign that featured an interracial ad, resulting in some hateful responses. Cheerios ultimately doubled down on the message by featuring the family in a Super Bowl ad.
Old Navy, the largest apparel brand owned by Gap Inc. (GPS), is also defending its latest ad.
“We are a brand with a proud history of championing diversity and inclusion. At Old Navy, everyone is welcome,” said Debbie Felix, Old Navy spokesperson, in a statement e-mailed to Fortune.
Twitter users were also quick to defend the brand. Many posted responses that included images of their own interracial families. Here is one example:
It is worth noting that Old Navy, as well as sister brands Gap and Banana Republic, have long featured diverse groups of people in their TV, print and online advertising.
Gap Inc.’s namesake brand found itself generating attention recently after an image used in a Gap Kids ad was viewed by some to be racially insensitive. That ad depicted four young girls that were part of a traveling circus company and in the image, an African-American girl was posing next to a taller Caucasian girl that propped her arm on the younger girl’s head. The pose was deemed problematic by some on Twitter so Gap pulled the ad, but didn’t back away from the broader themes of that campaign, which promoted girl empowerment.