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Consumer Power and the Promise of Negative Branding

By now it’s pretty clear that Republicans are out to steal your lunch money. If they take back the House, it will be two years of committee hearings for Hunter Biden and two more years of festering stasis for the rest of us.

So we need ideas, fast.

I am one of many who believe at least part of the answer lies in the business world. Corporate America needs to step up.

Large corporations have significant financial leverage over Republicans at every level — federal, state, local — and we need them to use that leverage to get us out of this mess, not just for our sakes, but for their own as well.

It is inexcusable that hundreds of mega-companies continue to contribute to the campaigns of Republican congressmen who openly denied the 2020 election results. These companies continue, in other words, to finance treason.

This is appalling on any number of levels, but let’s start with whether they’re getting their money’s worth. The Republican agenda they underwrite is so corrupt, so counterproductive, so utterly useless from any rational business standpoint, it boggles the mind that these companies so blindly sign on to it. It is in their interest to cut these incompetent fools loose.

It’s not just the forces of democracy that are being undermined. It’s the forces of capitalism itself. Why don’t capitalists get that?

Businesses of all sizes benefit hugely from the rule of law. Not to mention from public education, clean water, good roads, safe food, and a ton of other things they count on from responsible government. They are deeply invested in the system we have, which has worked out quite well for them, and they have plenty to lose in an unstable political environment.

Yet, perversely, they continue to finance nonsensical denials of climate change, decrepit infrastructure, and a crippled healthcare system — things that will only get worse, and more expensive, over time.

Even so, these businesses will not, of their own accord, use their political clout to help save themselves, let alone the rest of us.

Unless they can feel the pain in their wallets. Which is where consumers come in.

Consumers have enormous power over corporate America. Their power to buy — or, just as important, to not buy — has yet to be fully exploited. While there have been hints of that power — the recent Kellogg strike, the defeat of the North Carolina bathroom law, and other sporadic successes — the full potential has still not been realized.

But as the political clout of unions continues to decline, it might just have to be organized consumers that take their place.

Because if there’s one thing every business cares about — one thing that makes the whole capitalist world go ‘round — it’s the consumer. When we’re buying, life is just grand for corporate America. When we’re not, everything goes to hell.

This makes them extremely sensitive to “negative branding,” a term we need to get used to, and an idea whose time has come.

Companies spend billions polishing their brand, doing whatever they can to look good in the eyes of their consumers. And nothing gets their attention faster than something that makes that brand look bad.

We need to make them look bad. In this age of social media, any negative publicity can be devastating to a product, a company, or an entire industry. We need to mobilize consumers to go negative. We need to find ways to shame these businesses — to make them defend themselves, cost them money, and get them to stop supporting sedition.

That’s the strategy. What are the tactics?

Not many possibilities are coming forth, but the best I’ve heard so far comes, once again, from @Shoq, who is still worked up about the unwillingness of the left to think outside the box.

The idea is to build an online army of pissed-off, politically-aware consumers — people willing to leverage their massive purchasing power to disrupt business as usual. Sort of like a strike, but from the comfort of your desktop.

The idea is to create negative branding around irresponsible companies. To throw a monkey wrench into their operations. To call attention to their misguided political donations. To force them into embarrassing — and expensive — public relations postures.

For the sake of argument, let’s say we could get a million active consumers to sign up online for such an army. This doesn’t seem an unreasonable number, and I’m guessing there are many multiples of that available if the idea takes off.

Now imagine some significant percentage of those million people making an online purchase from a designated company on a designated day, then returning those same purchases on a later designated day. This would cause immediate cash flow issues for the company and its suppliers, as well as rippling logistics problems for Amazon, UPS, FedEx, and other interested parties, many with equally dirty hands.

Imagine that same million people calling the customer service line of a designated company on a designated day, tying up their communications for an unspecified amount of time.

Imagine a million people deciding not to buy a car in a particular month, putting pressure, not just on the car companies themselves, but on every company in their supply chain. Then next month, that same million people could refuse to buy a computer, or a phone, or piece of furniture, or a fast food meal. Or anything online.

Imagine a million people conducting a campaign of “rolling boycotts,” moving to a different company — or to an entire industry —every week. Companies would never know, from week to week, whether they’re next.

Imagine a million people pooling their money — a little bit each — and buying stock in companies they want to confront. Boards of directors live in terror of “activist shareholders,” people who want to remove management, reverse policies, or force changes to the business.

If any of these ideas can be put in play, they would all have ripple effects. They would all compound the PR problems of one company, while making other companies take notice.

I won’t get into what our demands should be — what these companies must do to get our knees off their necks — but the most immediate priority is voting rights. Whatever it takes, whoever needs to be leaned on, whoever’s career needs to be destroyed in the process, we must have a free and fair electoral system. That’s job one.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s think about how this might work and how to get it up and running, because time is ticking away.

I’m not saying it can come together in time to help. I’m not saying it’ll be successful, either. But in the absence of any other ideas — and I’m not hearing any — negative branding might just be the most positive thing we can do.

 

 

Comments

  1. https://www.opensecrets.org/dark-money/top-donors

    ReplyDelete
  2. Counterpoint: https://immasmartypants.blogspot.com/2022/01/the-january-6-insurrection-was-not-just.html

    Business has no leverage over this. In any case, the situational awareness of business is notoriously bad. They are obsessed, to the exclusion of thought, with the idea that each of their employees and customers is stealing from them, and that "government" (whatever that is) is the obstacle to direct action in retaliation for that theft. This determines their political attitudes. They are not capable of assessing or adapting to altered conditions.

    ReplyDelete

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