Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My Thoughts on Boycotts in General

Sometimes when we want to do something to make a statement or a negative impact on a company, we boycott. The sad thing is, I think the companies don’t usually notice, or care.

The first challenge is that the company must know about the boycott. From my past experience in the working world, I have learned a few things. One thing is that companies rarely think about what non-customers think of them. Most companies care most about their own customers. Sometimes the general overall perception of who the company is, is so very important that they want everyone to have a positive image of that company. This usually applies to companies whose product or service pertains to a very large number of people who are potential future customers as well as current customers. The best example of this is Tylenol. Remember ‘back in the day’ when no products had ‘safety wrapping’ on them, and that one man added something to Tylenol (was it poison?). After that, the company worked hard to improve the overall company image. The fact is that Tylenol was and is probably used by every family in America at some point in their lives (especially for pregnant women as it seems that is all the doctors say is safe to take while pregnant).

Overall I think it is safe to say that companies care about their current customers and their satisfaction. Usually companies do not like to hear that current customers are dissatisfied with something they did or are doing.

Companies sometimes reject the notion of general negative buzz about them. It is easy to ignore or to pretend that negative perceptions exist if no one is contacting the company to complain. This is why communicating directly with the company is vitally important, perhaps more important than participation in a boycott (and being silent about it to the company).

If someone calls for a boycott, the first challenge is that the company must find out about it. There may be times when a boycott is on but the company does not know about it. The person or organization who is initiating the boycott must have a big voice and must somehow get the message out to both the public (to join the boycott) and to the company who is being boycotted. If a stir can be made in the media then more people can find out about the boycott. I remember in the past, some organizations calling for boycotts by doing press meetings and issuing press releases. Greenpeace comes to mind as one organization who has called for boycotts in the past (remember the plastic toys issue from about 1999?). Perhaps blogging is a new way for the word to spread?

The next challenge is to get people to participate in the boycott.

If a person who was never a customer of that company now boycotts that company, then this is a non-event. There is zero negative financial impact on the company and the company was not impacted. Perhaps a letter expressing negative views of the company would have made a larger impact; the writer can just fail to mention that they are not a customer.

Even if an established customer stops using the product, the company may never know that they stopped, and why. If a customer wants the company to know something, the customer should tell the company. In this correspondence the writer must tell specifically that they are a customer, what they are unhappy about and what they’d like to see done about it. For example, if a person subscribes to a magazine and wants to boycott that magazine, I think the best thing to do would be to cancel the subscription and to ask for a rebate of the remaining, unused balance of their subscription price. It would be a non-event if a subscriber continued to get the magazine but just failed to renew it. If something is ‘hot’ right now it is best to communicate it now rather than wait for months in the future then to write and say “I am not renewing because I am unhappy with you about X issue”.

The company may not ever measure the impact of a boycott. In order to see if there is a financial impact they must know the baseline financial or other statistical information before the boycott, then measure the outcome after the boycott. I speculate that some companies don’t care at all about the boycott against them and don’t measure these things. I cite Nestle as one of them. I believe the Nestle boycott began in the late 1970s and it still is on today. Frankly after all this time, I don’t think that Nestle notices. I think that if a segment of customers have switched from Quik chocolate milk mix to Hershey’s chocolate syrup, over a long time like that, the boycott is unnoticed and it may even be statistically immeasurable and may go unnoticed. Boycotters would just be considered non-customers. I know some people who are still participating in the Nestle boycott but frankly I question whether Nestle even knows that a boycott that was begun over 25 years ago is still taking place!

I think that calling for boycotts and participating in boycotts makes the participants feel that they are doing all that they can do to make a statement to the company and to make a negative impact on the company in a financial way. Some people feel the only time a company cares what they say is when there is a financial impact, so participation in the boycott makes them feel they are doing more than if they had written a letter of complaint to the company.

Here is an example of something I did. To make a long story short, last year my husband’s family began thinking of taking a cruise in 2006. We planned this far in advance, and we booked the cruise. We thought, at that time, that by then my husband would have a job and it would be affordable for our family to go. About 20 people dropped out when one relative became pregnant with twins and was due to deliver just two weeks before the cruise sail date. A bunch of us decided to still go on the cruise (as we wanted to go and we didn’t want to lose the down payment money). We were booked on Royal Caribbean and one stop was Aruba. After the Natalee Holloway tragedy, my husband and I began questioning the safety of Aruba and of travel to similar locales in general. We are also upset with the way the Aruban authorities handled the case. I also was scared to go on Royal Caribbean after the Greenwich man disappeared on his honeymoon—and blood was found on the ship. That actually was the same ship we were supposed to be on. That was the final straw for us. We wanted to punish both Aruba and Royal Caribbean cruise lines so my husband and I decided to participate in the boycott of Aruba. However, (due to stress and more pressing matters in our personal lives) I failed to notify Royal Caribbean of why we cancelled. I also failed to notify Aruba of our change in plans of and of our feeling of unease with ever going to their island. So did the boycott work? I don’t think so.

Here is information about a boycott that is going on right now within the homeschooling community, a boycott of The Old Schoolhouse (a Christian homeschooling) magazine, a boycott of HomeSchoolBlogger blogs, and a boycott of Debi and Michael Pearl’s books, other products and services. I hope to blog more about this, but for now here is a link to some information about this hot topic. The boycott began when a boy died as a result of child abuse, of corporal punishment he received, and the mother is said to cite Christian parenting advice for “obedience training” given in the books written by Michael and Debi Pearl in their books “To Train Up a Child” and “No Greater Joy”. To read a newspaper article about the boy who died, go here.

I would like to persuade all people who are unhappy with a company (or even a country) to notify that company or country of their issues. If you are a customer then tell them you are a customer. If you cancel or stop buying their services, tell them you are doing that. I think communicating that is more important than participation in the boycott itself especially if the boycott is done but the reason for it is not conveyed directly from the customer to the company. If you both communicate your displeasure and boycott, then all the better.

To summarize I am not against participation in boycotts but I wonder if the power of the pen is stronger, so to be sure our voices are heard, we should at least voice our opinion to the company and also consider participation in the boycott.

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BridgetJ said...

This boycott is not about the bottom line. It's about exposing the Pearls as advocators of child abuse.

If just one family reads one of our blogs and rethinks the effects of hitting their children, then it is well worth our efforts.

christinemm said...

Okay then that would go with the idea of calling for a boycott as a way to draw attention to the problem/issue/cause at hand. I am fine with that.

I need to make the time to try again to figure out how to delete my accounts over at HomeSchoolBlogger. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to do it. It is my suspicion that the deletion function is only in the administrator's hands, not the members, which is way over controlling. Actually there is an alterior motive there because when TOS sells ad space to display on the blogs they can say "We have X blogs" and if they don't allow us to delete our blogs then they keep their numbers higher.

I have been talking up the issue with "To Train Up a Child" with people locally and people are just horrified.

Dana said...

I agree with you sentiments you outline here. And yes, you cannot delete your own blog at HSB.

At the moment, I am not interested in that. I have not yet figured out what I plan to do and am reasoning through it all...out loud on my blog. I'm thinking if I were to leave, most of my readers would not bother to follow. A greater awareness is raised by blogging my discomfort...we'll see where that leads.

Almost Lazarus said...

There is no way to manually delete a homeschoolblogger blog. I found this in the forums section:

"How do I delete my blog"

From "Amy Beth"

PM me the following information:

Your name.
email associated with the account.

So you have to log back in, and spam Amy Beth until she deletes your account.... I smell a blog entry

SupComTabz said...

I just posted a blog entry in my blog "The Blinking Cursor" about why I believe boycotts are (in general) stupid.