The boycott war has descended into madness

The divisions in the country have spilled over into commerce, with calls to boycott businesses from Nordstrom’s to Kellogg’s. Feel free to boycott businesses that backed a candidate you despise. But draw the line at extending those boycotts up the supply chain, because that way lies madness.

After the most vitriolic election in memory, the country still simmers in hate. The easiest ways people have to express that are in the echo chamber of social media posts, and by tweaking the way they shop through boycotts. But it’s gone too far.

The spreading tendrils of pro- and anti-Trump boycotts

New York Times article documents consumers avoiding Trump’s resorts, hotels, casinos, and clothing products. Travel site Hipmunk reports bookings at his properties through its app were down 58% in the first half of this year, although Hipmunk users are probably not representative of the country as a whole, and Foursquare reported visits to Trump businesses down 16.5% in September. These are isolated reports, but it’s clear that a certain segment of the population wants nothing to do with Trump.

The Boycott Trump app recommends businesses to avoid, including properties like 1290 Avenue of the Americas and the Trump casinos in New York City. But it goes further, recommending that you avoid previous advertisers on “The Apprentice” such as 7-Up, On-Star, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. And of course, there’s NBC, the network that broadcasts the Apprentice. While you’re at it, you might want to avoid Macy’s, which sells Trump clothing, and Nordstrom, which carries Ivanka Trump’s fashion line.

New Balance is in the cross hairs because its CEO agrees with Trump that the TPP treaty is a mistake. Of course, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, took that position in the election as well, but let’s ignore that for now.

Even Cheetos snacks are on the Boycott Trump app list. That’s not, as I imagined, because it’s responsible for Trump’s makeup, but because it advertised on Celebrity Apprentice in 2011. While you’re at it, try to avoid the Chicago Cubs, because its co-owner contributed $1 million to a pro-Trump super PAC.

Why stop there? Peter Thiel backed Trump and spoke on his behalf at the Republican National Convention. He’s either an investor in or on the board of Facebook, AirBnB, Lyft, and Spotify. Get those apps off your phones!

Of course, it’s not just the left that’s called for boycotts. Conservatives suggested to boycott Target after it supported allowing transgender people to use restrooms matching their gender identities, and traffic to stores fell 2.2%.

Most advertisers don’t want to take sides in this food fight. That’s why advertisers like Kellogg’s have pulled their ads from Breitbart, the nasty and slanted site where Trump advisor Steve Bannon was chairman. Breitbart responded by calling on its readers to boycott Kellogg’s, as shown in the graphic on this post.

Let’s unwind the logic here. An advertiser chose to stop advertising. The media company responded by threatening the advertiser. Sounds like a protection racket — “keep paying us or our readers will stop buying your your Pop-Tarts and Pringles.”

Let’s stop dividing the country into warring camps

As Scott Monty of Brain+Trust strategies describes, this level of commercial combat is unprecedented.

From a perspective of journalistic ethics, Breitbart’s actions violate standard journalistic practices. Other media outlets have decided editorial outlooks, but none have ever tried to impose those outlooks on advertisers or outside businesses before. Breitbart’s call for a boycott is clearly intended to send a message that brands had better align with or support its political perspective — or face (purported) economic consequences.

Purely and simply, it’s an attempt by a political website to inflict its political outlook on brands and companies, and to generate consequences for companies that decline to support or advertise on any outlet they choose. Breitbart’s action is intended to send a message that any company not sharing its worldview may be in for a world of hurt. And they stated as much to the Associated Press when they said Kellogg’s was making such a move “to its own detriment.”

The natural outcome of companies responding to these boycotts is to further divide the country. Conservative voters will shop at conservative stores that carry conservative brands and advertise on conservative-approved television programs and conservative Web sites. Liberal buyers will avoid these true-Red site and instead watch programs produced by pro-Democrat producers, funded by liberal investors, and carrying products that are Trump-free.

Maybe we should get certifying agencies, as we do with organic produce. They’ll inspect the whole supply chain and look for particles of ideologically suspect commerce: investors that voted the wrong way, suppliers that once advertised on the wrong program, employees who contributed to the wrong candidate. “Sorry, you’re not certified Trump-free, because your CIO’s children go to a school where the headmaster gave $500 to a Republican candidate.”

By the way, if you’re trying to be Trump-free, you’ll have to boycott me, too. Because The Observer, which is owned Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, published an excerpt of my book Writing Without Bullshit. Not only that, but I’m hoping to have a piece published in the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is decidedly conservative. I guess that makes me a Trump apologist. I’ll be sorry to see you go.

Where to draw the line

It’s much simpler than it looks. Here’s my proposal. If you don’t like Donald Trump, don’t buy his stuff. If a company makes a political statement you don’t like, you don’t have to buy from them either.

But let’s not take this all the way up the supply chain.

Advertisers should be able to choose the programs on which they advertise. If you think those programs are reprehensible, ask the advertisers to stop supporting the program. But let’s not go back in time and punish advertisers who advertised on programs before Trump was even a candidate. And punishing advertisers for not advertising on a site is taking things to an absurd level.

Don’t punish retailers based on products they carry. Instead, encourage people to stop buying the products. If they don’t buy, the retailers will stop carrying the products.

Don’t punish companies for their investors. Hold them responsible for their behavior, not who happens to put up the money to get them going.

I’m going to continue to do business with people, even people I disagree with. I’m going to keep talking with them. I’d rather not divide the country into warring camps that don’t work with each other.

And if you don’t like it, please don’t boycott me. I try to point out all hypocrisy, regardless of where it lands on the political spectrum. If both sides boycott me, it’s going to get pretty lonely out here.

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  1. The boycott mentality is a natural outgrowth of people feeling unempowered (or emasculated, or whatever). After Trump’s supporters kept hearing that the election would be rigged against them, Clinton’s supporters were left feeling that the whole thing was rigged against them. Boycotting helps everyone feel like they’re making a difference. And, like with so many things nowadays, we tend to get carried away.

    I thought you were going to say, Don’t boycott. Instead you said, Boycott – but do it sensibly. I can get behind that. You needn’t worry about being lonely.

      1. Theater of the absurd! Would it not be nice if politics are simply personal. Advocacy has become whoever shouts the loudest; which does make it correct.

  2. Josh, you wrote “Feel free to boycott businesses that backed your candidate.” Maybe you meant “bucked”? 😉