(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
How many times do I have to tell you? It’s 2019!
That means if you’re running a small business, you need to be very careful about your marketing. Your business can’t have a sign showing a sexy cow. You need to be careful of cultural appropriation. And you shouldn’t “play” with the LGBTQ acronym. This kind of stuff will get you in trouble.
That’s what Jamie Smith, the owner of Belle’s Smokin BBQ, a food truck in Williamstown, Kentucky learned.
This past week, and in an ill-advised move, Smith decided to start selling T-shirts that, in his opinion, was just a “play on words” with the acronym LGBTQ. Smith’s shirts used the same letters but changed their meaning to ‘liberty, guns, Bible, Trump, BBQ’.
Can you guess what came next?
“It’s not just a simple acronym,” Facebook user Chad Reynolds wrote, according to a CNN report. “GLBTQ are already waking up every day with a mountain to climb in terms of acceptance. The last thing we need is a food truck mocking us.”
“Wearing that shirt is offensive,” another outraged customer told a local news station.
The post went viral. People were furious. The national media picked up the story. Smith’s Facebook page became flooded with comments, mostly negative. Which brings us to: the apology.
“Belle’s Smoking BBQ apologizes if we have offended any groups, organizations or individuals with our shirts.” Smith finally wrote on Facebook. “We respect all beliefs and lifestyles and want no ill will towards anyone. We know each person has their own thoughts and beliefs but we are hurt that the people who are saying, ‘stop the hate’ are the ones coming at us with the harassing messages and threatening phone calls.
“Again we apologize for any hurt feelings and thank our supporters who truly know us.”
As usual, too little, too late.
I have some sympathy with Smith. Why? Because I’m a business owner. I’m always looking for ways to grow my business. I’m always willing to try marketing ideas that stand apart from others. And because of that I’m just as prone – as he is – to mysteriously abandon all common sense in my pursuit of more revenues. If you’re wondering why a person in his right mind would fiddle with the LGBTQ acronym just to bring more attention to his business then you’re probably not a small business owner. True, most of the business owners I know wouldn’t do what Smith did. But deep down inside, we do understand his intentions, however misguided.
Unfortunately, the shirt is still available for sale online on the company’s website and through various outlets. Now that’s something I wouldn’t do.