Thursday, August 24, 2017

Boycotts rarely work -- but we love 'em anyway -- Aug. 24, 2017 column


When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem last year, some conservatives boycotted the National Football League.

Angry at what they saw as unpatriotic behavior, veterans and others rallied around the hashtag #BoycottNFL. Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, tweeted: “Here’s a peaceful protest: never buy another shoe, shirt, or jersey of rich spoiled athletes who dishonor our flag.”

Now the tables have turned.

The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP recently asked fans to boycott the NFL and a group of black pastors in Alabama released a video calling for a blackout of NFL games until a team signs Kaepernick.  

Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem to protest police brutality against blacks. Other athletes joined in, and the protests have continued in the pre-season, with white players taking part. A free agent, Kaepernick hasn’t been signed for the season that begins Sept. 7.

A huge crowd of Kaepernick supporters protested outside NFL offices in New York Wednesday, contending owners have blackballed him for his activism, which the league denies.

This is the age of voting with our wallets.

Fans of Donald Trump boycotted Budweiser over its inspirational Super Bowl ad praising immigrants. Trump’s foes boycotted L. L. Bean after the granddaughter of the company’s founder contributed to his campaign and Trump urged people to “Buy L.L. Bean.”  

People similarly shopped or stayed away from Macy’s and Nordstrom after the stores dumped some Trump merchandise. Social media and sites like, which lists stores that carry Trump merchandise, give boycotts more exposure.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many boycotts announced in a short period of time,” says Brayden King, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University.   

Boycotts -- more than marching in the streets or firing off an angry screed on social media -- make us feel powerful. There’s something immensely satisfying about just saying no and walking away.

Only one problem: Boycotts typically don’t accomplish much.

Not all are failures. The Montgomery (Ala.) bus boycott started in December 1955 and lasted 13 months. It ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation on public buses unconstitutional.

Viewership of NFL games on TV networks dipped last year, but the national anthem protest was only one reason, a J.D. Power survey of fans found. Off-field domestic violence and the presidential campaign were also factors.

Experts say boycotts fail because there are too many of them, our attention span is short and we simply don’t like to be told what not to do or buy. A boycott perversely can generate more sales for the item being boycotted.

Despite Uber’s many PR catastrophes and boycotts, its gross bookings and number of trips taken have risen, according to news reports.

Rather than judge a boycott’s impact on sales, it may be better to judge its media attention, King said.

Several Kennedy Center Honors award winners announced they’d boycott the pre-ceremony reception at the White House or the event itself. They include hit singer Gloria Estefan, TV producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade.

The president and first lady announced they’ll stay away “to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

At least 20 charities reportedly have dropped plans to hold galas at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Florida. Among the big names that have canceled: American Red Cross, America Cancer Society, Cleveland Clinic and the Salvation Army.

Charities hosting large galas can pay Trump's club between $125,000 and $275,000 for a single night's revelry. Even lunchtime events can cost charities between $25,000 and $85,000,” The Washington Post reported.

Why charitable organizations choose such pricey locales for their fund-raising events, even if they do raise big bucks, is a question for another day. But the cancellations do send a message of disapproval to others inclined to book Mar-a-Largo.

“If you have a conscience, you’re really condoning bad behavior by continuing to be there,” Laurel Baker, executive director of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, told the Palm Beach Post.

The boycott affects a prized Trump property, and that’s a sure way to grab the businessman’s attention. 

But will it change the president’s policies? That will be the true measure of the boycott’s success.

 © 2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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