Do boycotts still work?
There is this remarkable story of a woman of color named Rosa Parks who, six decades ago, refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger. She was arrested for violating segregation laws. It was news that Martin Luther King Jr. did not take lightly, propelling him to start what is now known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
There were many other notable boycotts in history. The Delano Grape Strike of the ’60s, for instance, speaks of a time when millions of Americans refused to buy grapes after news broke that Filipino farm workers in California were protesting their low wages.
The word “boycott,” as we know it now, originated from a man named Capt. Charles Boycott, whose threat to evict land tenants in 1880 moved his employees to stop working for him, thereby isolating him, impairing his economic status and forcing his family to pack up and move away.
Today, boycotts have become prevalent. The term is defined as a commercial or social severance with an entity as a form of protest. Numerous high-profile brands have become subject to boycotts for various reasons.
In the age of “woke social media” and highlighted social issues, boycotts manifest most in the form of consumer protests, where advocates try to influence consumers to stop patronizing an offending producer. These are done to put financial pressure on a company to rethink its policies.
A recent highly visible boycott was the uproar over Nike’s new ad campaign featuring athlete Colin Kaepernick. The ads, which celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” slogan, featured the controversial athlete, who had protested police brutality against blacks and minorities by kneeling during the US national anthem. His appearance in the Nike campaign angered his critics, and led to photos and videos of Nike products being burned online.
In the local scene, some boycotts have gone on for months now—those of Nutri-Asia products and Jollibee Foods Corp., for instance. Social media has been rife with calls to boycott well-loved brands such as Datu Puti, UFC and Mang Tomas, as well as JFC brands, including Chowking and Greenwich. Both companies are under fire for issues relating to labor contractualization. These movements are so famous that they have earned their own hashtags online.
Consumer boycotts are a form of protest that counts on popularity in order to effect the desired change. On the surface, the method may seem more powerful now, what with social media propelling its popularity. According to Northwestern University professor Brayden King, however, in terms of financials, boycotts hardly leave a dent in revenue figures.
Social media does not necessarily sustain boycotts, contrary to what we may believe. The incessant stream of exchanges in these platforms give certain social causes an expiration date. And with so much social awareness going around, there’s so much boycotting going around, too. As writer Annabelle Timsit put it, many of us have had “boycott fatigue.” Maybe it is also time to boycott all the boycotting?
It is, of course, always appropriate to call out management whose decisions and opinions are a threat to social welfare. But, in order to effect change, nothing beats genuine awareness about social issues. Boycotts, without such awareness, are just bandwagons for people to hop on. Social issues have to extend to a personal scale. It’s a cynical world, after all. If the stomach is hungry, it will still consider Jollibee.
Boycotts do still have their place. I have become wary of them, though, not because of my business background or my tendency to sympathize with a business under scrutiny, but because, while they may not hurt profits, they may tarnish branding, and that will hurt more in the long term.
It is easy to simply stop consuming a product, especially if you’re not the target market to begin with. But for real change to take place, nothing beats awareness and personal investment in a movement. That is always tough homework—but the kind of protest that will produce more lasting results.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.