3p Weekend: Are Boycotts the New Normal?

The first weeks of the Donald Trump administration were tumultuous at best. But among the policy disputes, we’re noticing another curious trend: boycotts galore.

Don’t get your coffee at Starbuck’s; they hate veterans. Don’t shop at Nordstrom; they want to keep a working woman down. Don’t drink Yuengling; those guys love Trump.

Meanwhile, the organized #GrabYourWallet campaign encourages shoppers to avoid purchasing an array of products with ties to Trump and his family members.

Boycotts, of course, are not a new phenomenon. They’ve been employed to great success over the years, such as the divestment movement partially credited with ending apartheid in South Africa. But the scope and pace with which we’re seeing companies tossed to the side made us sit up and take notice.

In most cases, it’s difficult to tell how effective these boycotts really are. TriplePundit hopes to speak to some of these companies over the next few weeks to learn more, but here’s what we know right now: In the age of Trump, companies better watch where they step — or risk squishing into a political dogpile.

Nordstrom

Last week, department chain Nordstrom did the unthinkable: It decided to stop selling first daughter Ivanka Trump’s clothing and shoe collections. I know, this is really serious stuff you guys.

The chain said the decision was not political, instead citing the label’s falling sales. But that didn’t stop Trump from tweeting his displeasure, writing: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom.” Press secretary Sean Spicer quickly backed him up. For some reason, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway also felt the need to get involved. And some questioned whether her call to “buy Ivanka’s stuff” crossed legal and ethical boundaries.

But ethics aside, some Americans won’t be seen with those metallic Nordstrom shopping bags any time soon. Calls for a boycott grew almost immediately, with some on social media tapping a favorite Trump buzzword and saying the chain is “failing.” It turns out the opposite is true. In the two days following Trump’s tweet, Nordstrom stock rose 7 percent and the company made $115 million, Forbes reports.

Starbucks

In the wake of Trump’s controversial ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz denounced the executive order and promised to hire 10,000 refugees over five years. 3p’s Grant Whittington reports:

“It wasn’t long before the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks started trending on Twitter. The bulk of the tweets complained that Starbucks plans to favor hiring refugees when Americans remain out of work. Critics also questioned why Starbucks launched an initiative supporting refugees but not one supporting veterans.”

It turns out that last claim is largely bogus, which Starbucks quickly reminded customers on Twitter:

Starbucks, of course, is no stranger to boycotts. They’re basically a holiday tradition.

Budweiser

Budweiser’s seemingly pro-immigration advertisement made a splash on Super Bowl Sunday. But the boycott backlash actually began days before the big game, after details about the ad were published online.

The ad depicts Budweiser’s German founder Adolphus Busch’s immigration story. In most political climates, it would be fairly innocuous. But in the boycott bonanza, almost anything can land you on the hit list.

The hashtag #BoycottBudweiser quickly rose to ‘trending’ status on Twitter after the ad ran. And humorously, another hashtag containing a misspelling — #BoycottBudwiser — was also trending during the big game.

Airbnb

Airbnb was quick to respond to Trump’s controversial travel ban. CEO Brian Chesky denounced the move on Twitter and pledged to offer free housing to those affected. Days later, the home-sharing service upped the ante with a pledge to provide short-term housing to 100,000 people over the next five years.

But it was the company’s Super Bowl spot that landed it in hot water with the boycott crew. Some on social media perceived the #WeAccept ad as “un-American” and pledged to boycott Airbnb.

Kellogg

This week Kellogg announced it would shutter 39 distribution centers across the country and lay off around 1,100 people. Over a thousand Americans losing their jobs should, by almost all accounts, be sad news. But the controversial alt-right publication Breitbart News seemed to celebrate the announcement. Why? Because they claim their boycott caused it.

Okay, let’s rewind for a second: Back in December, Kellogg was surprised to learn its ads were appearing on Breitbart through an automatic platform. The company made a public statement saying it would no longer advertise on the site. Breitbart publishers were furious and launched the #DumpKelloggs boycott campaign.

“Kellogg’s stock saw a decline and its brand perception online took a deep negative nosedive last year following the cereal maker’s politically-driven attack on Breitbart News,” the site claimed this week when reporting the layoffs.

Whether Breitbart’s boycott is to blame for Kellogg’s financial woes remains uncertain. But it surely seems out of character for a publication with ties to a chief White House strategist to celebrate a loss of American jobs in any context.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola also found itself on the wrong side of the boycott bandwagon on Super Bowl Sunday with an ad featuring the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” in eight languages. 3p contributor Jo Piazza reports:

“What should have been a celebration of American diversity triggered a knee-jerk reaction from some of the very worst Internet trolls and a viral #BoycottCoke campaign which appeared seconds after the ad aired.”

If the ad looks familiar, that’s probably because it is. Coca-Cola first aired the spot back in 2014, and it faced boycotts then, too.

Uber

In the days after Trump’s travel ban went into effect, chaos erupted at airports across the country. Refugees, green card holders and visa carriers were reportedly detained, and lawyers and protesters quickly showed up to call for their release.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance suspended pick-ups from JFK Airport for an hour to protest the travel ban. And an ill-timed tweet from Uber quickly brought it into the fray.

The tweet was interpreted as being in defiance of the strike. And it wasn’t long before #DeleteUber began trending on Twitter. Meanwhile the company’s main competitor, Lyft, enjoyed some time in the spotlight for its speedy reaction to the ban. (The company quickly assailed the order in a blog post and pledged to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.)

Uber denies it was ever trying to break the strike. CEO Travis Kalanick then vacated a position on one of Trump’s advisory councils and implored customers to re-install the app. But for many, it was too late.

Netflix

Netflix released a trailer for its new series “Dear White People” this week. And some were none too pleased.

A cross-section of social media commentators called the series “anti-white” and began tweeting with the hashtag #NoNetflix, encouraging others to cancel their video-streaming subscriptions.

Justin Simien, who created the Sundance film that inspired the show, was quick to respond to the kerfuffle — but maybe not in a way boycotters would like.

“For me, it was really profound, encouraging in a weird way,” Simien told ET on Thursday. “It just brought more attention to the series. Thanks, white supremacists, you really helped me promote my show.”

Yuengling

Readers outside the American Northeast may have never heard of Yuengling. But the beer label, which claims the title of “America’s oldest brewery,” is beloved in the region for its flagship lager. The company’s ads often proclaim that in Pennsylvania, “If you ask for a lager, you get a Yuengling.” And it’s true.

But some lager-lovers were left with a bad taste in their mouth in the days leading up to the presidential election. Richard “Dick” Yuengling Jr., the fifth-generation owner of the family business, publicly endorsed Donald Trump in October.

It wasn’t long before customers took to social media in outrage. Some self-proclaimed “lifelong” Yuengling drinkers vowed to never touch the stuff again.

Since Yuengling is a private company, it’s tough to tell how the incident affected its business. But the fire seems to have died down on social media. And if you trust anecdotal evidence: I’ve seen plenty of folks slugging ‘lager’ in and around Philadelphia, even amidst frequent anti-Trump protests.

Do you work for one of these companies? We want to hear from you! Send your boycott stories to contact@triplepundit.com. 

Image credit: Flickr/Can Pac Swire

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Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian with an interest in climate resilience, clean tech and social justice. You can contact her at mary@triplepundit.com.

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