Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve experienced, seen or at least heard of the many boycotts being waged against corporate brands. Currently, we’re in the throes of a campaign against Chick-fil-A, an Atlanta-based fast food restaurant for comments made by owner Dan T. Cathy that supported the “biblical definition of the family unit”…essentially speaking out against gay-marriage rights.
This came just off the heels of another social boycott campaign that erupted after Kraft Foods posted a Photoshopped advertisement of an Oero (“America’s Favorite Cookie”) stuffed with rainbow colored layers and the caption: “Proudly Support Love”. Both came on like unexpected tsunamis and quickly became the main topic of conversation across social media, television and newspapers as well as at both boardroom and kitchen tables across North America.
Boycotts are quickly becoming the weapon-of-choice for groups seeking to further their political or social agenda by targeting national companies who already have mass public attention. Social Media is simultaneously the fuel and the battleground for these wars and a new reality for businesses.
During the #bizforum Twitter debate on this subject last night, by referencing the granddaddy of all boycotts: the Boston tea party, Ric Dragon suggested that boycotts are not a new reality for business at all.
He’s right of course, boycotts are not new but they are certainly a strategy that has had new life breathed into it. Social Channels have facilitated boycott “Flash Mobs”, where almost overnight lines are drawn in the sand and tens of thousands of people line up on one side or the other. Worse, most jump on the bandwagon without any real fervent support for the cause but for peer-pressure or the entertainment value.
Today, more than ever business must anticipate the reaction to every nuance of every act, statement and belief of their employees as well as their companies. They must possess more intuitive insights into the political and cultural environment they, their government and their customers engage in or risk being on the wrong side of a social mob.
Businesses are just getting used to the idea and impact of a few public tweets about their brands and now they’re faced with the reality of socially-powered boycott threatening to take them down.
An Ounce of Prevention?
The reality is that most boycotts today are rooted in political or social beliefs and not direct opposition to the quality of a specific product or service offered by the company. Opposition to a product or service is easily managed.
Preventing political or socially-based boycotts is next to impossible unless you make it a policy to never speak or engage the public for fear of offending someone, somewhere. However, the congregation of people in communities through online social channels has forced businesses to engage these groups on social, political and emotional levels in exchange for their loyalty.
Aligning a business’ values with that of its customers is a sure fire way to generate diehard fanatics but also creates a volatile environment from which these Flash Mob boycotts can erupt.
Should businesses be taking these socially-charged boycotts seriously? Social media has become known for its short lifespan so is there any real long-term threat? Remember, cable news created the 24-hour news cycle, which social media turned into 24-minutes.
As Fred McClimans argued in last night’s debate, even if the boycott is short-lived the digital footprint of the event – and the impact on the brand’s reputation – Iives on.
Two Sides to Every Debate Boycott
The “same-sex kiss-in” created by activist Carly McGehee , which sparked the recent Chick-fil-A boycott was met with a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”, sponsored by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum joined the fray by rallying his 200,000 Twitter followers to support the chain.
When Kraft Foods posted its Oreo Cookie Gay Pride support advertisement on Facebook it garnered 157,000 likes with 40,000 shares. Yet of the20,000 comments many were negative and called for a boycott of the cookie.
Convention dictates a business avoids such controversies yet many national brands seem to court them. In honor of Pride month, Target launched a line of gay pride t-shirts and Ben & Jerry’s renamed it’s apple pie flavor “Apple-y Ever After” in the UK. Given the precedents set on Facebook and other social channels, why are these businesses not afraid of the Flash Mob boycotts? What do they know?
Is it possible that boycotts are not a punitive tactic used by the activists but a modern tactic used by savvy businesses to leverage political discord in hopes of solidifying fervent loyalty from “the other side”?
Are boycotts really a business strategy, not a political weapon?
I’m turning the debate over to you now. Should businesses ignore, avoid or embrace flash mob boycotts? Share your thoughts below. Also, check out a sampling of the arguements from last night’s #bizforum debate on this issue.
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego