Can it bring the powerful to heel?
As consummate consumers, Americans have embraced the boycott as a distinctively American way to influence powerful people and institutions. The internet and social media act as accelerants for activists launching boycotts, and the country’s deepening political polarization in the Trump era has further encouraged people on both sides of the divide to vote with their wallets. Both the Left and the Right maintain lengthy lists of businesses to be shunned. Some boycotts are successful in reducing sales; even when they fail to do so, boycotts can damage a brand and serve as a lever for winning concessions.
Among the key takeaways:
Boycotts are most successful when the issue is easily understood and deeply felt, the boycotted company has numerous competitors and the news media takes an interest.
President Trump has become a consumer litmus test, with his opponents boycotting retailers that carry his family brands and supporters retaliating against companies that drop his brands.
A boycott can exact a stiff price: The state of North Carolina faced $3.76 billion in lost business over a now-repealed law that forced transgender people to use bathrooms aligned with their birth gender.
Resources for Further Study
Friedman, Monroe, “Consumer Boycotts: Effecting Change Through the Marketplace and Media,” Routledge, 1999. A psychology professor at Eastern Michigan University analyzes the evolution of boycotts and the growing importance of media coverage through academic research as well as interviews with boycott targets and protest groups.
“How should companies navigate polarized politics in the Trump era?” PBS NewsHour, Feb. 9, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Abrams, Rachel, “Nordstrom Drops Ivanka Trump Brand From Its Stores,” The New York Times, Feb. 2, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Chinni, Dante, and Sally Bronston, “Trump Product Endorsements Drive Consumers … Away,” NBC News, April 9, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Diermeier, Daniel, “When Do Company Boycotts Work?” Harvard Business Review, Aug. 6, 2012, http://tinyurl.com/
Halzack, Sarah, “Trump lashes out at Nordstrom in a tweet for dropping his daughter’s apparel line,” The Washington Post, Feb. 8, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Kell, John, “Starbucks Faces Boycott After Pledging to Hire Refugees,” Fortune, Jan. 30, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
King, Brayden, “Why boycotts succeed – and fail,” Kellogg Insight, Aug. 1, 2009, http://tinyurl.com/
King, Brayden, and Mary-Hunter McDonnell, “What the Breitbart-Kellogg Feud Says About the Next Era of American Politics,” Fortune, Dec. 13, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/
Peterson, Hayley, “An open letter calling on Nordstrom to drop Ivanka Trump’s ‘toxic’ brand is going viral,” Business Insider, Oct. 27, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/
Reports and Studies
“Political Polarization in the American Public,” Pew Research Center, June 12, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/
Tankersley, Jim, “Donald Trump lost most of the American economy in this election,” The Washington Post, Nov. 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/
Watson, Bruce, “Do boycotts really work?” The Guardian, Jan. 6, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/
The Next Step
Abrams, Abigail, “More Than 60 Advertisers Have Dumped Bill O’Reilly’s Show After Sexual Harassment Allegations,” Time, April 6, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Ingram, Mathew, “Advertising Boycott of Breitbart News Appears to Be Growing,” Fortune, Feb. 21, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
O’Reilly, Lara, “The real motivations behind the growing YouTube advertiser boycott,” Business Insider, March 22, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Boycotts in Sports
Berkman, Seth, “U.S. Women’s Team Strikes a Deal With U.S.A. Hockey,” The New York Times, March 28, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Lynch, Andrew, “Warriors’ Draymond Green encourages Raiders fans to boycott games in Oakland,” Fox Sports, March 29, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Moore, Evan F., “NCAA Lifts North Carolina Boycott After Bathroom Ban Repeal,” Rolling Stone, April 4, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
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Liberal website and magazine dedicated to making global businesses more sustainable through consumer pressure.
Website dedicated to boycotting Trump family products and other liberal causes.