– A.J. Litchfield
Consumer boycotts of businesses and products have long been one of the most effective ways for the everyday citizen to enact social, and in some cases, political, change. Perhaps the most famous example of a boycott was the Boston Tea Party, when New Englanders dumped newly-taxed British tea into the Boston Harbor in opposition to taxation without representation—and we all know what the ultimate outcome of that was.
Boycotts have been held periodically in the years since 1767. Often, they come about when a business makes a decision that angers consumers, causing shoppers to refuse to purchase the business’s goods or services until the decision has been reversed. Environmental issues, animal rights concerns, or association with foreign governments that are perceived to be violating human rights or international laws, are all examples of principles that can provoke a boycott.
Obviously, just because consumers try to initiate a widespread boycott of a business or its products does not mean that the business is obliged to acquiesce to the consumers’ requests. A boycott is the ultimate test of consumers’ brand loyalty, forcing management to wonder just how devoted consumers are to the products they provide. When loyalty is exceptionally high, it may not matter that a few fringe radicals are attempting to cut off the flow of business. If, however, loyalty is low, consumers might be more likely to participate in a protest.
Recent political tensions across the country have resulted in relatively unprecedented social unrest, and, subsequently, in an increasingly volatile consumer base. Individuals feel the need to reinforce the legitimacy of their political views whenever possible. This has led to increased loyalty on the part of consumers to businesses and brands that share their ideologies—leaving businesses to consider the political ramifications of their every decision.
One obvious example of this was the Keurig-Sean Hannity debacle. Hannity, a popular Conservative TV personality, refused to withdraw his support for Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore after allegations of sexual assault surfaced against Moore. In response, Keurig pulled its advertising from Hannity’s daily program.
Reaction was swift. Perhaps as early as a day after the news of Keurig’s move broke, individuals were pledging their allegiance to Hannity through the violent sacrifice of their Keurig coffee makers. Countless videos were posted to various social media sites capturing the ritual of destruction. Keurig’s CEO has since apologized for taking sides.
The politicization of brand loyalty has reached a critical point. It wasn’t enough for individuals to simply refrain from purchasing Keurig coffee. Only the total annihilation of Keurig’s products would do. Make no mistake, this social phenomenon reaches across the aisle. To this day, there are many Liberal consumers who will not step foot in a Chick-fil-A because CEO Dan T. Cathy has opposed same-sex marriage and donated to anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Politics, more specifically the clash between Conservatives and Liberals, has become the ultimate influencer on many Americans’ lives in recent years. The tension this creates is intense, and businesses—which used to be content to sit on the sidelines as long as capitalism was thriving—now find themselves tip-toeing through the shards of glass that represent the remains of a once more moderate, and socially unified, American consumer base.