I don’t know when the very first boycott of a product or company happened, but I suspect the tactic has been around in some form or another for a long time. I do remember the onset of the modern form of the practice, though. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, social conservatives began going after businesses who advertised on shows they didn’t approve of as a key part of their culture war strategy and they did so with a good deal of effectiveness. So much effectiveness, in fact, that a lot of people today (both conservatives and more progressive types like myself) routinely make purchasing decisions based on a company’s political behavior. (I miss Buy Blue, which made the process a lot simpler.)
A lot of conservatives this week seem to have conveniently forgotten their history. Take Sean Hannity, who all of a sudden can’t think of a single conservative who supports boycotts. Fortunately, Karoli over at C&L is there to help jog his memory:
- One Million Moms first threatened a boycott of JC Penney’s to force them to remove Ellen DeGeneres as their new spokeswoman. Their more recent effort is against Toys ‘R Us for selling a newly-published Archie comic featuring a gay wedding. Their purpose, as stated on their website: “OMM is strictly an online campaign focusing primarily on the entertainment media (television, music, movies, etc.). The goal of this campaign is to stop the exploitation of children by such media.” One Million Moms is a project of the Family Research Council, featured often on Fox News. Current boycott projects include Lifetime Television, ABC and Disney, and Clorox bleach.
- In 2009, Rush Limbaugh called on his listeners to boycott GM, saying “nobody wants to support an Obama company.” Rasmussen Reports immediately followed up with a poll to see how many would support such a boycott.
- Last month the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute called for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies because they support Planned Parenthood.
- Newsbusters, the conservative activist wing of the Media Research Center, criticized networks for playing up a boycott of Lowe’s Corporation. The reason for the boycott? Lowe’s had advertising placements on TLC’s “All-American Muslim”, and that outraged right-wing critics. Lowe’s bowed to the pressure from enraged right-wingers and pulled the ads. Newsbusters chided networks for “playing up Lowe’s outrage.”
- American Family Association calls for a boycott of Old Navy for supporting the “It Gets Better” project.
- USA Christian Ministries calls for Starbucks boycott over tolerance for gay rights and anti-gun stance.
- Liberty Counsel calls for a boycott of PayPal after four accounts of anti-gay activists were suspended.
- Mike Huckabee, on Fox News, called for a boycott of NPR after Juan Williams was fired.
Note that second bullet point, if you would. Rush Limbaugh, the flashpoint du jour, has himself played the boycott game.
Those outraged by Rush Limbaugh’s libelous attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke have responded by employing the tactics pioneered by the Right, only to be accused by Limbaugh’s supporters of “censorship” and “destroying freedom of speech.” In some cases the dittoheads are threatening a double-reverse counter-revolt where they themselves will abandon any advertiser that abandons Limbaugh. Apparently boycotts are only acceptable when used by our side. When you do it, it’s cheating.
A couple of years ago I outlined seven principles for corporate giving over at Black Dog Strategic, and the same core concepts apply to advertising. In brief, your ad strategy either needs to be completely free of politics or you need to pick a side and live with the results. You can’t be half-in – the market will see to that. If you advertise on Rush (or O’Reilly or Savage or Beck or FOX News generally), you will eventually lose progressive customers. If you buy time on Olbermann or Maddow, don’t expect a lot of card-carrying GOP customers. If you try to play both sides of the street you’ll eventually have both sides mad at you. This is the nature of the contemporary media landscape, whether you like it or not.
Meanwhile, angry conservatives, nobody here has any sympathy for you or the companies that have chosen to bankroll Limbaugh’s hateful, ignorant spew over the years. As I have been known to tell those fond of moving the goalposts on me, we can play by whatever rules you like, but rest assured, we’re both going to play by the same rules. You want to be noble, great. You want to bring a steel chair into the ring while the ref is distracted, fine, but you better be wearing a cast-iron cup.
Once upon a time we could all go to the store without worrying about who the owner voted for or contributed to or advertised with. But thanks to the likes of Jerry Falwell and the “Moral Majority,” who pioneered the partisan shopping environment in which we now live, not only is the personal political, so is your purchasing. Progressives didn’t start it, but we have to live by it, don’t we?
Turnabout’s fair play. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.