- People on the right and left are organising boycotts and counter-boycotts against companies with ties to the NRA.
- Brands cutting ties with the NRA are being bombarded with new threats of boycotts.
- This is just the lastest boycott battle that unnecessarily puts two sides in extreme opposition to each other.
- Most Americans agree on gun control – and the latest wave of boycotts ignores that reality.
Activists supporting and opposing stricter gun regulations are taking sides in America’s latest round of boycotts.
Delta, United Airlines, Hertz, and MetLife are among more than a dozen companies that have cut ties with the NRA in the past week after the school massacre this month in Parkland, Florida. NRA members are offered discounts and other deals as part of their belonging to the gun-rights organisation.
In response to companies cutting ties, supporters of the NRA have sprung into action with boycotts of their own.
Delta, United, and Hertz are now the enemy for pro-gun-rights activists, while FedEx has become a new ally.
The divided response is playing out in the Twitter replies and Facebook pages of every company that has ever offered NRA members discounts.
Scrolling through the Facebook pages is a numbing vision of political polarization.
The traditional complaints about poor customer service and delayed flights are completely forgotten in favour of celebration or disgust over gun control.
Roughly half are positive, roughly half are negative – and there is no in-between.
Boycotts and counter-boycotts have become an increasingly common part of the American political narrative in recent years.
From conservatives smashing Keurigs after the company pulled ads from Sean Hannity’s show to liberals ditching Macy’s for selling Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand, political hot spots are increasingly being tied to consumer boycotts.
Boycotts shape political narratives
“Reputation these days is far more visible and important,” John Paluszek, executive producer of corporate responsibility organisation Business in Society, told Business Insider.
As e-commerce opens up seemingly infinite options to customers, experts say that corporate values are playing an increasingly large role in customers’ shopping decisions. Tying a brand to certain values and political beliefs is one way to beat out rivals, especially for brands attempting to establish a higher-end image.
As a result, companies are expected to take sides on certain political issues.
The emphasis on companies’ social values comes at a time of intense political polarization. Behaviour once seen as apolitical, such as having or cutting advertising on a certain right-wing TV show, is now seen as unacceptable by a huge chunk of the US.
Boycotts typically don’t have a major impact on sales in the short-term. But, they can have a huge impact on how American shoppers think about politics and brands.
Endless boycotts create a cycle of division
Gun control should be something that Americans can agree on. In fact, most of the US does agree.
But the instinctive counter-boycott led by many on the right has made it seem as though there is no middle ground between people calling for gun-control regulation and those who support gun rights.
The NRA has pushed back against even moderate gun-control regulation, something much of the country agrees with. So, it makes sense that a company would want to cut ties with the NRA, especially since the discount deal is a pretty insignificant part of business.
But, as was the case in past boycott efforts, cutting off discounts has produced a new cycle of backlash. On Monday, Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle threatened to kill any legislation that benefits Delta unless the airline “fully reinstates its relationship with” the NRA.
According to experts, companies need to listen to workers and customers to figure out which choice will best shape their long-term reputation.Most of all, they need to provide a straight-forward and clear explanation to customers to explain their choice.
“You’ve got to explain yourself and you’ve got to do it at the right time,” Paluszek said.
Most companies that have cut ties with the NRA have provided explanations, even if they’re brief. However, FedEx – one of the few companies to continue to offer NRA members discounts – has so far failed to speak publicly about its decision.
It is unlikely that companies that have cut ties with the NRA will see a major sales impact. And, by cutting ties, brands like Delta and Hertz have played a major role in making the ostracization of the NRA a mainstream and dominant stance.
However, the backlash to the backlash shows how boycotts can be pushed to the point of absurdity. One year into the Trump presidency, the expectation of a counter-boycott represents a knee-jerk desire to force companies to support a specific political opinion, instead of looking to points of compromise.