‘Buycott’ – new term, old idea but more scary than ever

Nordstrom - Paramus - New Jersey

When Ivanka Trump’s products were dumped by – firstly Nordstrom and then a number of retailers – the reason given was “falling sales”. What wasn’t clarified was that the falling sales had been brought about by a social media campaign that called on consumers to stop buying not only the specifically Trump branded products but also the department store itself if it continued to stock the Trump products. This tactic has now been labelled ‘Buycotting’.

Buycotting is not new. It goes back hundreds of years but was perfected through the use of mass media by people like Ralph Nader in the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The concept is simple. Create a wave of negative media coverage that culminates in a call to action for consumers to put pressure on retailers to stop selling targeted brands or products or abandon the retailer entirely.

The threats escalate until the retailer surrenders. In some instances with some activist groups this has gone as far as bombings, violence, impenetrable picketing and even red paint being thrown on people in the case of the anti-fur movement.

While the concept is not new, the outcomes can be very scary and due to contemporary technology generating a Buycott is now frighteningly easy to create and very difficult to undo.

For retailers this means social media and issues management is a very real part of maintaining a successful consumer franchise. For stockists of multiple brands, the modern activist sees you as potentially supporting an enemy. As such you become a legitimate target in the eyes of the activist just as Nordstrom was in the case of Ivanka Trump product. For a vertical retailer it may be your suppliers who are the enemy that make you a target. Or you may have simply transgressed somehow or offered support in kind to someone they have a grudge against.

We live in an era that is becoming increasingly less tolerant, blindingly narrow-minded in opinion and focus, aggressively action oriented, progressively anarchist and dangerously equipped to do something about it. That doesn’t mean you shy away from standing for something for something but it does mean you need to have strategies in place to prepare your business to be able to deal with negative campaigns like Buycotting.

Active social and issues management campaigns require monitoring issues continually and a rapid response framework built from a ‘playbook’ of ‘what ifs’. As we all know, building and maintaining great consumer relationships is the key to sustainable retail success and these relationships are easily broken. As someone much smarter than I once said, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”.

Audit all your inputs. Have a proactive social media program. Monitor issues and be prepared to act in your own self-interest as quickly and positively as you can.

Unfortunately, this is the reality of our times and one of the downsides of a hyper-connected world.

Peter James Ryan is head of Red Communication and can be contacted on (02) 9481 7215 or at [email protected].

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