Saturday, June 12, 2010

Redirect Consumer Boycott Anger

Hoards of people are angry at BP PLC over the massive and continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With that anger, consumers are boycotting BP. The ways in which the boycotts have taken shape, the reactions to the boycotts, and an understanding of the social psychology of consumer boycotts can all provide useful lessons for you, the retailer.
  • Distinguish impromptu from organized boycotts. An article in Canada’s Financial Post about the various protests against BP includes a photo of two women standing at a BP service station. Based on the smiles and the shorts, I’d stay these supposed protestors are much more interested in having their picture taken repeatedly than in raging against the corporate machine. Impromptu boycotts draw attention to your business. The boycott can draw sympathy as well, especially if the protest is prolonged. Turn all this to your advantage. A number of newspaper articles are currently appearing that explain how boycotting a dealer-owned gas station that happens to carry the BP logo hurts the people who own the station, not BP Global at all. Your initial reaction to an impromptu boycott could profitably be, “Let’s use any media attention to show how good a retail business we run.”
  • If it is a boycott initiated and maintained by a community action group, determine the group’s boycott objectives before deciding what actions to take. According to researchers at University of Texas-Austin and University of Southern California, community action groups organizing a boycott are usually less interested in doing economic damage to a business than in forcing changes to the behavior of all businesses engaging in the offensive action. If you find this is the objective of an organized boycott of your retail business, publicize any of the ways in which you share common ground with the group. For instance, a service station owner probably shares with Facebook’s Boycott BP group—what is currently the fastest-growing online boycott sponsor—a desire to keep beaches clean. That service station owner might even make common ground with Greenpeace. After all, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Greenpeace is now against a boycott of BP. Greenpeace instead wants us to support what they call another BP—Beyond Petroleum. Well, okay, the retailer and Greenpeace might part company on that point.

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