Are boycotts becoming bigger risks?

Discussion
Sources: Instagram/@realdonaldtrump; Twitter/@WFBLMcommunity
Jul 27, 2020
Tom Ryan

Goya and Whole Foods are two brands currently facing boycotts in today’s politically-charged climate. Two new surveys indicate that consumer boycotts are becoming more pervasive.

According to new YouGov survey data, half of Americans have boycotted a business at some point in their life. Roughly two-thirds of respondents agree boycotts are very (21 percent) or somewhat (42 percent) effective.

A survey commissioned by CompareCards found 38 percent of consumers are currently boycotting at least one company, up from 26 percent in January 2019.

The leading driver of the current boycotts are disagreements about politics. Among the boycotters, 19 percent are refusing to spend money with a company due to their support of Black Lives Matter, while 18 percent are boycotting companies that do not support the movement. Sixteen percent are boycotting businesses that don’t require shoppers to wear masks, while 15 percent are boycotting places that do require masks.

In CompareCards’ survey, about half of Gen Z (51 percent) and Millennials (52 percent) are currently boycotting at least one company versus 37 percent of Gen X, 22 percent of Baby Boomers and 16 percent for the Silent Generation. Overall, 41 percent say they would cut ties with their favorite retailer if it publicly supported something or someone they strongly disagreed with.

Goya is facing calls for a boycott from Latinos and other consumers of its products after its CEO Robert Unanue said President Donald Trump was a blessing.

Whole Foods is facing boycott calls after sending workers home for wearing “Black Lives Matter” face masks. Starbucks in June reversed a similar policy after facing boycott calls.

Others encountering boycott threats in recent years include Amazon.com over labor practices, Nike over its affiliation with controversial former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Dick’s Sporting Goods over gun control and L.L. Bean over a donation by the founder’s granddaughter to the Trump campaign.

“We’re a divided country in so many ways and people seem to be becoming more emboldened in their beliefs and more willing to use their wallets to express them,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst for CompareCards.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is driving the apparent rise in boycotts of retailers and brands? Do you see the increase in boycotts as a short-term or long-term issue for retailers and brands?

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28 Comments on "Are boycotts becoming bigger risks?"


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Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

When a person or brand decides to take a political stance or support a controversial cause, there can be backlash in the form of customers disagreeing and choosing to do business elsewhere. I can’t imagine that the leader of a major brand wouldn’t take that into consideration when they choose to make a public statement that may not be in alignment with the majority of their customers. There is nothing wrong with taking a position with any issue, as long as the potential outcome is considered before going public. There are brands that know they will lose some of their customers if they take a position. Knowing and accepting that – and building it into the financial and reputational objectives for the company – are important considerations.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

It’s pretty simple. People have had enough and it seems as though boycotts are the way to get through the companies in a capitalist society. Vote with your wallet.

It doesn’t help that frustration levels are high from the pandemic and political beliefs are fractured.

I suppose for every person who won’t buy a Goya product, there is another who will. This isn’t going away any time soon. We live in a terribly polarized society where companies are faceless yet easy targets.

The real question is, “how effective are these boycotts?” I think they’re somewhat effective.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

The obvious answer to what is causing the increase in boycotts is the polarized political climate. However, the proliferation of social media platforms gives consumers a mechanism for sharing views and having them reinforced by like-minded people (or by those on the opposite side of the argument). As the article called out, all kinds of boycotts are at work at any given time so fragmentation is more prominent than organization. In most cases, retailers can afford to wait things out, knowing that a new news cycle will move things along.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Boycotts are emotion-driven. Humans are emotional. Politics, bad behavior, good behavior, righteousness, depending upon one’s world view will keep the fires of boycotts alive well into the future. Boycotts offer an opportunity for those who are angry about persons, places, or things an opportunity to express their indignation. Also known as human nature.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

The Goya situation was so predictable that the CEO must have known what he was doing. In general, the environment is polarized and brands that take perceptible positions on the “right” are at risk of social media shaming and boycott – think NFL, Nascar. Brands that take positions on the “left” are lauded – Nike and NBA. If brands choose to wade into the conversation forcefully, it is their choice. Otherwise, it is best to ride it out.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

There’s a higher risk for boycotts and there is a higher potential reward for newfound support. Works both ways when a company’s position on some social issue becomes known. The wallet as a ballot box has officially arrived. It has been that way for some time on the donation side. Now it’s in play at the consumer level.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

We once did a longitudinal study on boycotts. A very large proportion of those who said they would boycott something never ended up doing so, or did so for a very short period of time. I am not saying that no one boycotts, but a lot of these things are more about making a noise on social media than they are about actually sticking to convictions. All that said, the fact that there are more boycotts now than ever shows what a highly politicized time we are living in and that is something all retailers and brands should take into account.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Remember Mitt Romney saying “Corporations are people too, my friend?” Consumers can applaud these “people” or avoid them and social media not only enables this but also provides tools to start a movement.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I think that many people have found they have a voice and have learned to use it. And it is effective. It does create change in the business world. Actually word of mouth has been around a long time; and now it is finding an awareness of new strength.

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

Boycotts are nothing new. The apparent rise is being accelerated because of the roles companies play in society. I think we see companies rising above religion and government as influencers and as signals of affiliation. One example is that the government didn’t mandate masks but Walmart took a stance. Someone will always step in to fill a leadership void (that’s not making a political commentary) and it seems companies are willing to do so.

When companies play that role and have that visibility, boycotts offer an immediate way to feel good, a voice and a connection to something bigger than the self and a sense you are hitting where it hurts. While there are constructive boycotts and boycotters, there has to be an audience that just wants an easy, quick solve without doing the hard work for change.

If companies continue to fill leadership voids and boycotts continue to effect change, we will continue to see an increase in their use as a tactic.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

So many of us are so frustrated with feeling helpless and sometimes hopeless with the current administration that speaking out or boycotting companies and brands makes many feel empowered or at least like they’re taking a stand. The problem for most companies is they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Politics is one of those subjects you never bring up with a client or customer and so retailers, manufacturers, and brands could stay above the fray, but if they do they risk being positioned as cold and uncaring. It is a difficult time and the truth is there are no easy answers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Boycotts are being driven by several factors including, but not limited to: social media which makes it easier to initiate, communicate, and sustain a boycott; increased polarization as a result of the culture wars where large parts of the population retreat to the safety of their own “bubbles”; and the willingness or unwillingness of senior brand executives and/or corporate willingness to address social and political issues. So if this is correct we will continue to see an increase in the number — but perhaps not necessarily the effectiveness — of boycotts.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Boycotts reflect two prevalent current themes in American society:

  1. They are typically driven by a small special interest organization — they are seldom true “grass roots” movements.
  2. More consumers are calling for corporations to “take a stand” on social and political issues. But they aren’t doing that to support corporations’ rights to free speech. Just like speech itself, it is supported only as long as it agrees with your own agenda. Unlike the intent of the First Amendment, it is not valued for its inherent value to the public debate of all points of view as a benefit and privilege of our republic.
David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

Among a hundred other insane things, 2020 is the year of protests and boycotts, almost non-stop. But since there are such a ridiculous number of protests and boycotts, none of them are able to stand out. My advice to retailers might surprise you. Ignore the protests or boycott rhetoric because odds are slim that it will even happen. Do not panic, and do not over react. A few days from now the attention will be on a dozen other things. I promise.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

At this time, there’s incredible frustration in U.S. society. In part I believe the frustration comes because polarization leads us to be unable to trust that when the party we don’t like is in office, we’ll still be okay coming out the other end. So people are LOOKING for something to be able to do “here and now” to make a difference.

Boycotts give people the ability to do something and feel like they are trying to make the future better or punish those they disagree with.

So it makes complete sense that boycotts exist. But they are a result of political dysfunction — not the solution to it.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Interesting that the Goya boycott has actually resulted in their products being out-of-stock on many shelves, due to the press. Seems there are some differing opinions out there in the real world.

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust

Any data on why? Is demand from support of their CEO or fear the products will not be available if they are pulled from shelves?

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Hi Chuck, I wouldn’t think a boycott would typically result in product being pulled by the retailer, however these days, you can never say “never.”

storewanderer
Guest
18 days 16 hours ago

Any evidence of retailers pulling Goya products from sale? I doubt it.

I read a lot of news articles of people with “latin” names saying they will never use Goya again. One article I read, these folks who said they would never use it again were noting Goya labels are not very clean; Adobo seasoning with MSG in it, etc. (consistent with most other brands of adobo and many similar items). Then it went further; these same folks were coming out with their own line of adobo with a clean label for the price of $29.99 per small bottle and suggested latin households switch to it.

Often there is another motive behind a “boycott” — someone who tells you to boycott some business so they can sell something to you instead.

I am afraid that is often what is happening here.

storewanderer
Guest
18 days 16 hours ago

Goya products are typically displayed in an ethic foods aisle. Many white shoppers do not even look at the ethnic foods aisle when they shop. This PR involving the Goya CEO caused some people who would not have normally gone looking for Goya products to go seek the products out and some of them bought something.

Similar brand called Cento does the same sort of thing with Italian foods. They have packaged food items that are the same as typical conventional American brands (canned beans, oil, etc.) but usually not displayed with the other items, rather, displayed in an “ethnic” section. This does vary by store, some stores do integrate the Cento and Goya items in with their standard sets, but most do not.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
18 days 21 hours ago

Brand trust matters more than ever, even as business is less trusted though not as distrusted as government. Compound that with a hyper-emotional world that started with political divisiveness, then add in the pandemic and the catalyzing murder of George Floyd and you have all the ingredients for this perfect storm. Which is also an opportunity for brands who recognize the reality of the cliche “we’re all in this together.”

Jamie Dimon and the Conference Board were right in recasting the purpose of a business a year ago and now we’re all catching on and catching up. As long as people believe that we’re all in this together and frustrated at what governments and businesses are and are not doing, this is not going to change.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

I used to put bumper stickers on my car from time to time. But now, there are too many crazies on all sides. Making a seemingly innocuous statement can draw irrational fury. It’s always best to consider the risks (and they can be palpable), so generally, I just go about my business quietly and try to be kind to everyone. I take a stand when it’s within my sphere of influence and I know I couldn’t look myself in the mirror the next day if I didn’t act.

storewanderer
Guest
18 days 16 hours ago

You could always take that bumper sticker off your car (or worst case — get a new bumper). Not so easy to “take off” social media postings. Sure, you can delete them, but they don’t always go 100% of the way away.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Apparent? Where’s the evidence for that? What I think has grown is the attention given to them. I think it’s an on/off issue for retailers: something like masks is obviously a temporary issue, while climate change or social issues are longer term. I’ve really nothing to suggest, since the usual bromide of “listening” — also described as “appeasement” by those who aren’t so fond of it — isn’t of much help when the same percentage of people boycott you FOR doing something as for NOT doing it.

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust
Every day, it seems, we are confronted with something that we cannot control–from the pandemic to aggression from our government. One of the things we can control, that we share with others is how we spend our money and in turn our relationships with brands. “Boycotting” or spreading the word about a brand’s actions–in agreement or not–is a low-risk way to take a stand. Am I boycotting Goya or Chic-fil-A? I can’t say that I was a customer of those brands and now I’m not. What I can say, is if I am tempted to buy from them, I will think twice and most likely not make the purchase. Will this make the company less money? Probably not. But I feel a bit better about it. My point is, what a brand does or does not do is increasingly the meaning consumers engage and buy from that company. Current times have accelerated and amplified this evolution to meaning-driven purchases. That said, that dude from Goya seemingly shot himself in the foot, but probably not really.
RandyDandy
Guest
18 days 18 hours ago

I am with those who are saying that, specifically with Goya Foods, the CEO knew what he was doing when he lavished praise on Trump. To do so, on the side of such an obviously politically polarizing figure, would be impossible to imagine otherwise. As such, whether the entire company deserves the potential downsides of boycotting notwithstanding (and they will not), the owner will (or should) get his due — and be ready to handle it.

Now, to imagine the reverse: his possibly not knowing the cultural landscape and still speaking with such positivity for and about Trump is equally problematic. It portends of the CEO living in an “ivory tower.” There is nothing better about that scenario. Not in this newly conscious world we are dealing with.

In either case, watch for some drop in the buying of Goya products. (Though a fan, I will be included in those holding back purchases until some suitable redress is offered.)

storewanderer
Guest
18 days 16 hours ago

Or it is possible that CEO of Goya truly believes and feels what he said about Trump and actually had the courage to put it out there. Why is it okay to say everything negative about Trump, but not okay for someone to say something positive? Everything is an opinion and there is a ton of misinformation out there. The double standard is getting pretty tiring. People are entitled to their opinions.

I don’t think this will impact Goya at all. Hispanics are not 100% against Trump. Despite the hopes and wishes of the Democrat Party; Trump does have about 30% support on the Hispanic demographic.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Boycotts are so easy to initiate via social media that we may be assured of their proliferation for years to come. But counter-movements are equally easy to create, and I can imagine a sub-rosa industry devoted to this activity.

A social media post is the bumper-sticker of our age (thanks Warren for reminding us). It can garner many views fast, but it can also be drowned out in the cacophony.

Corporations and brands need to be circumspect about aligning with one political stripe or another. At some point, however, neutrality becomes impossible. Truth-telling always has consequences.

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