Billy Graham churches dump Well Fargo over same-sex ad

Franklin Graham calls for boycott of Wells Fargo
Franklin Graham calls for boycott of Wells Fargo

Despite some detractors over a new commercial featuring a lesbian couple adopting a deaf child, Wells Fargo said it is sticking strongly by its ad.

"The coverage to date has been overwhelmingly positive," said Valerie Williams, a Wells Fargo vice president and communications consultant. "It exceeded our expectations. We weren't naïve in terms of what to anticipate in terms of response."

Over the weekend, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's president and CEO, Franklin Graham (Billy's son), posted on Facebook that the organization was moving its accounts from Wells Fargo to another bank because its ad featured members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. He called on Christians to boycott the corporation as well as to stop patronizing other companies that supported gay rights through marketing.

A still from a Wells Fargo commercial depicting two mothers adopting a child.
Source: Wells Fargo | YouTube

He further elaborated to The Charlotte Observer that he was not opposed to businesses working with LGBT community members, just those that were using shareholder money for pro-LGBT ad campaigns. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment at press time.

Later Tuesday afternoon, the Observer reported that Graham has chosen BB&T to take over the accounts pulled from Wells Fargo, even though that bank has sponsored some gay-pride events, including a fundraiser for Miami Beach pride.

Reached Tuesday evening, a BB&T spokeswoman told CNBC that the bank tries to help its clients achieve economic success regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

"As a company and a culture, BB&T embraces diversity and inclusion for our associates and in all aspects of our business," said Cynthia Williams, BB&T's chief of communications. "However, we do not take formal positions on non-banking or social issues."

Graham's view might be the minority in this country, especially among youth. Support for LGBT rights is at an all-time high. According to a May 2014 Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal. Support among those 18 to 29 years old climbed to 78 percent.

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"From a cultural standpoint in our country right now, LGBT-inclusive everything is becoming more the norm and the expectation as opposed to the opposite point of view," said Andy Bagnall, a vice president at marketing agency Prime Access. "You have the popular opinion in terms of what's happening culturally in this company. The smart advertisers right now are at the forefront of that curve. "

And from a business perspective, companies could be wrong to ignore the LGBT community. Marketing firm Witeck Communications estimated that the purchasing power of U.S. LGBT adults was $830 billion in 2013, despite the fact that just 3.5 percent of the population identifies as part of the community. For comparison, Hispanic purchasing power is estimated to hit $1.5 trillion per Nielsen, but the group makes up about 17 percent of the U.S.

"There is a complete cultural shift occurring over the acceptance of the LGBT community," LGBT marketing and communications specialist Jenn T. Grace said. "Corporate America is seeing that if they don't include the LGBT community they are going to be the ones left behind."

Other brands have included the LGBT community in their campaigns to a majority of positive press. Hallmark's "Put Your Heart To Paper" 2015 Valentine's Day campaign featured a lesbian couple. Absolut Vodka launched an "Express your Pride" campaign recently, calling on social media users to show their colors. Tiffany showcased a real-life gay couple in one of its "Will You?" ads.

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And, when Mondelez's Honey Maid received hateful comments for its "This Is Wholesome" campaign, which included all kinds of parents from single dads to gay families, it printed out all those negative statements on paper and fashioned them into the word "love." The response has been viewed more than 4.3 million times on YouTube.

What makes the ad especially powerful for Wells Fargo is that the banking and financial services company has had a strong history of supporting LGBT rights, Grace pointed out. It is active in sponsoring community events and nonprofit organizations, and is well known for providing employee resources and internal leadership training to help LGBT employees.

"For Wells Fargo to be publicly showing equality fits with what they do," Grace said.

Wells Fargo's Williams said there's no plans yet to include more LGBT community members in future ad campaigns. However, the company does not regret its decision.

"It definitely is along the lines of our vision of values and foundationally what we think when it comes to diversity and inclusion," she said.

—Ryan Ruggiero contributed to this report.