The Futility of Boycotts
– by David Matthews 2
The premise is simple: stop doing business and the business will change to adapt.
If you have bad service at a restaurant, then you stop going there. If enough people do that, then the restaurant will figure out what’s wrong and will strive to fix it. If a store doesn’t have a certain product, you go to the store that does, and eventually the store you used to go to will find a way to sell that product to you.
It’s a simple premise. Unfortunately it’s too simple.
Everyone likes to talk about boycotts. If they don’t like a business, they want it shut down. If they don’t like a TV show, they want it off the air. And they feel that the best way to do that is to starve it of money.
So these special interest groups put on a big display about wanting to BOYCOTT the business in question. They hope that the business will relent quickly to avoid the publicity; otherwise they hope they have the manpower and the determination to make that business suffer.
It works if the business is small enough to be affected and they rely on your patronage… and if you have enough people on your side willing to do the same. But what if you don’t?
Let’s say you stage a boycott of a mom-and-pop grocery store. If you think that a hundred people will join you then you might do some damage to its business. But what if you don’t even have ten? What if most people continue to show up at that grocery store? Then you look like a pretentious and somewhat impotent fool.
Unfortunately the threat of a boycott really has no effect on large businesses, especially big multinational multi-conglomerate corporations that have tendrils everywhere. Have a hundred people on your side? Better make it a thousand. Or ten thousand. Or even a million. And even then that wouldn’t be enough.
Pick on a big-name corporate-owned store, and you MAY hurt the store itself. If you’re lucky. But you certainly won’t hurt the corporation. The corporation will simply shut down the store, lay off the people working there, and move on. It wouldn’t be their only source of revenue. They would have plenty of other businesses to rely on.
That’s why I had to laugh when the Southern Baptists decided to announce a boycott of the Disney Empire in 2005. Go after the WHOLE empire? The corporation that owns several movie production companies, several major TV networks, stores, and even several radio stations featuring major conservative media personalities? Madness! And over what? A management decision for one of their traditional franchises that had nothing to do with the Baptists in the first place! Madness combined with pompous presumptive arrogance!
Of course it wouldn’t work! That’s like fighting a fifty-foot dragon with a plastic spoon.
Sure SOME corporations make the mistake of kowtowing to the threat of boycotts. But that’s usually because they fear the short-term negative publicity. More often than naught, though, they will choose to weather the short-term loss and win through attrition.
Case in point is the recent attempt to shut down “The Glenn Beck” Show on Fox News. After Beck accused President Barack Obama of being a racist, several groups called for a complete boycott of Beck’s sponsors. To their surprise, over one hundred sponsors have reportedly backed out.
And yet Beck is still on the air. He is still on the radio and still on Fox News. In fact the executives at Fox News are laughing all the way to the bank with Back.
Why? Because boycotts don’t have the same kind of impact that they used to.
Let’s get brutally honest here… the true strength of a boycott is in the initial FEAR of negative publicity. But if the company decides that it can weather that negative publicity, then it becomes a game of attrition, and let’s face it… most special interest groups don’t have either the willpower or the sheer numbers to go up against the big corporations!
Do you know how conservative talk radio became so prevalent on the dial? Because the syndicators were willing to offer the shows to the stations FOR FREE for a limited period of time.
Think about that for a moment. The syndicators were willing to let local radio stations air their money-making shows FOR FREE until they can generate enough local buzz to bring in the local sponsors. Does that sound like they’re afraid of a short-term loss of sponsorship?
Now, going back to TV… how about those 100+ sponsors that have pulled out of Beck’s broadcast? Have they pulled out of Fox News in and of itself? Or have they just pulled out of Beck’s show?
Because, you see, that’s where the versatility of the huge media corporation that Fox News is a part of comes in. As long as the money continues to come in from sponsors of Fox News, their management people can continue to keep Beck on the air until the outrage dies down and the sponsors come back. In fact in England, Beck’s show continues to air without ANY kind of sponsors whatsoever! Instead of sponsors, the UK viewers see in-house Fox News ads during the breaks.
Does that sound like the special interest groups are really winning? He’s still on the air. He’s still on TV and the radio. He’s still running his mouth, making even more absurd statements and even barking like a dog. No, seriously. He’s really barking… like a dog.
If anything, his lack of sponsors and the ongoing boycott - as pathetic as it is - can actually be used to generate sympathy for him. He can claim he’s the victim of “persecution”, which is standard operating procedure for the conservative and neo-conservative personalities. That always seems to work wonders for his fans because they LOVE to claim persecution when they’re not allowed to have their way.
The sad truth is that boycotts don’t work when taking on big corporations. The ones that call for it usually declare “victory” and officially end the boycott without their stated goals being met. Rather than to admit defeat, they erroneously claim that they made some sort of “impact”, which they consider to be just as good as a victory. In reality all that they do is they erode their own credibility and bolster the credibility of their opponent.
A boycott against a corporate leviathan may sound nice in a “David versus Goliath” sense, but in truth it really is nothing more than trying to play a game of chicken with a brick wall. The brick wall will win every time.