Most Boycotts These Days are Fruitless, Pointless, and Stupid. Here's Why

KFC Boycott by Dave Hogg is licensed under creative commons license 2.0
If you're a fan of boycotts, the past week has been heaven for you. Three major companies have faced boycotts from outraged citizens on either side of the political aisle. Nike was boycotted for recalling a patriotic shoe in compliance with Colin Kaepernick's demands. Starbucks was boycotted because some police officers at a location in Arizona were asked to leave after another customer complained about their presence. Home Depot was boycotted just yesterday when a retired co-founder, Bernie Marcus, said he'd give part of his fortune to Trump's reelection campaign.

I am biased, admittedly, but I happen to think that the first two outrages had at least some basis while the third has none. Nike made a cowardly and absurd decision in getting rid of a shoe design just because one whiny ex-NFL player had a problem with it. The manager at that Starbucks store in Arizona obviously behaved atrociously. As for Home Depot, the company has no say over how its retired co-founder chooses to spend his own money. It should be noted, also, that Marcus is giving 90% of his fortune to disabled veterans, autistic children, and medical research. If he wants to throw a little chunk to a political campaign, that's his prerogative. Boycotting Home Depot will punish Home Depot employees. It won't have any substantive impact on a billionaire in his 90's who is getting ready to give all of his money away anyway.

People may have good reason to be miffed about the Starbucks and Nike controversies, but boycotts are equally pointless in those cases. Starbucks didn't enact a policy banning police officers from entering their establishments. This was a bad decision made by one shift manager at one location. Why would you refuse to buy coffee from a Starbucks in Scranton, Pennsylvania because an employee in Tempe, Arizona did something obnoxious? Nike's decision about the shoe was indefensible, but it was a marketing calculation made by one person, or one small group. Most of the people theoretically impacted by a boycott are innocent of the crime.

I say "theoretically" impacted because most boycotts these days are merely theoretical. Rarely do the targets of these boycotts suffer any longterm negative effects. Sometimes, the opposite is the case. Nike's sales went up after conservatives boycotted it for hiring Colin Kaepernick last year, and its stock went up after conservatives boycotted it again over the flag-shoe kerfuffle. In a more dramatic example, Chick-fil-A has soared to meteoric heights in spite (or, partially, because) of various boycotts and protests from far left activists.

Most people aren't actually willing to alter their consumption habits. You can be mad at Walmart all you want, but if you need a new blender and they're the closest, cheapest, and quickest option, you'll probably put your boycott on hold and just go buy the blender. You can tweet angry hashtags at Amazon, but nobody else is going to deliver literally any product in existence directly to your door by tomorrow afternoon with no shipping charges. Be angry at Starbucks, but Dunkin Donuts coffee still tastes like bath water and you need to get your coffee somewhere. Complain about Chick-fil-A, but there simply isn't any better option if you want a chicken sandwich for lunch. This may not be the most principled way to operate, but it is how 99% of the people reading this article do actually operate, whether they will admit it or not. When it comes down to it, almost everyone will choose what they like and what's convenient and affordable over fidelity to a hashtag campaign on Twitter. When push comes to shove, almost no one is spending more on the blender just to make a point. Maybe it would be better if more people did, but they don't. And that's all there is to it.
KFC Boycott by Dave Hogg is licensed under creative commons license 2.0