- A growing number of American consumers are pressuring companies to ditch their ties to the National Rifle Association following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
- Activists have planned a 24-hour boycott of Amazon, Apple, and FedEx – three companies that have not distanced themselves from the NRA – on Thursday.
- Companies are most likely making careful calculations on how the boycotts and customer anger could affect their bottom lines, according to a brand-reputation adviser.
Under pressure from American consumers, nearly two dozen companies – including Delta Air Lines and Hertz – have cut ties with the National Rifle Association in the two weeks since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
But three huge corporations – FedEx, Amazon, and Apple – have either stayed silent or said they are continuing their NRA partnerships. Amazon and Apple have come under fire from gun-control activists because the two tech giants offer the gun-lobbying group’s TV channel as part of their streaming services. FedEx has a discount program for NRA members.
In response, some consumers have begun canceling their Amazon Prime accounts, stopping their use of FedEx to ship items, and boycotting Amazon and Apple products. Several activists and celebrities also organized a 24-hour boycott of the three companies on Thursday.
As politically charged boycotts become more frequent, it’s worth exploring how they could affect each company’s bottom line.
Anti-NRA boycotts could hurt the sales and reputations of companies that don’t cut ties – but not always
Eric Schiffer, a consultant who advises Fortune 500 companies on how to improve their reputations, told Business Insider that the 24-hour boycott could lead to a sales decline, especially for Amazon.
“A large portion of [Amazon’s] revenue is through e-commerce, which could impact them quite significantly if enough people participate [on March 1],” said Schiffer, who is the chairman of Reputation Management Consultants.
The companies that have cut ties with the NRA had numerous factors to weigh, one being how their customers would respond.
This could explain why many life-insurance companies, for example, are continuing their NRA discount programs. According to surveys, Americans who buy life insurance tend to be older, and those who are older tend to have more conservative political beliefs, like a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment. Companies that sell hunting and camping gear are also more likely to keep their NRA partnerships, Schiffer said.
The American public has a short attention span for boycotts, and brands have taken advantage of that before. While Dick’s Sporting Goods has made the seemingly permanent decision to stop selling assault-style rifles of the kind used in Parkland, it has flip-flopped in the past. Dick’s moved to stop offering that type of weapon after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. But just eight months later, it began selling semiautomatic rifles at a new hunting and fishing chain called Field & Stream (the latest ban affects that chain as well).
This shift in Dick’s stance on gun accessibility hints at another roadblock for the NRA boycott.
The American public can quickly forget about mass shootings
That’s one reason Schiffer thinks it will be hard for the NRA-inspired boycotts to hurt companies’ sales and reputations.
“Most politically charged events, that in this case is heartbreaking, have short life spans, because the public’s memory fades pretty quickly. That’s why many policymakers are rushing to get something done,” Schiffer said. “When we look back on this six months from now, it won’t surprise me to see that many brands will have made their way back, in some fashion, to the NRA.”
Historically, few political boycotts have affected company sales in the long term. Activists called for boycotts when Hobby Lobby refused to provide contraception to employees, when Chick-fil-A revealed it gave money to anti-LGBT organizations, and when H&M released a racially insensitive hoodie ad – all apparently to little effect.
But there are exceptions. According to The Cut, sales of Ivanka Trump-brand clothing have been steadily declining since 2016, the same year a boycott against Trump merchandise began. And after consumers found out Nike used child labor in the 1990s, the subsequent boycott was a huge blow to the company’s reputation. Nike performed 600 factory audits and was the first in the industry to publish a complete list of the facilities making its products.
But boycotting tech giants like Apple and Amazon is not as easy.
Tech companies on the boycott list are far-reaching in scale and influence
Boycotting Amazon is not as simple as canceling a Prime account or giving up online shopping. People would need to stop watching Amazon’s TV shows, buying food from Whole Foods, and using Goodreads and Audible. In addition, Amazon Web Services provides cloud-computing services to governments and major companies, including Netflix, GE, and Kellogg’s, making the company’s influence even larger. If you live in a city or state with an Amazon warehouse or office, chances are your local government is also awarding the company subsidies through tax breaks.
All of this makes it harder to fully avoid Amazon and other tech companies with NRA ties.
Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist who is helping promote the Thursday boycott, realizes these challenges. But she said her team would not back down.
“A number of companies have already dropped their ties to the NRA in a short period of time, which is great, but there’s still a lot more work to do,” Coulter said. “We won’t stop.”