Monday, July 30, 2012

Have you guys heard about this Chick-Fil-A thing?

I don't know if you guys have heard about it, but there have been a few news articles about a statement made by Chick-Fil-A's owner about his beliefs about marriage, and some people are really not happy about it. /sarcasm

Within days of the head of Chick-Fil-A defending his traditional view of marriage, the social media world lost its collective minds and decided that this was the most important story in the world. (Millions dying over the world? Nah. Olympics? Nah. Horrible human rights violations last week in China? Nope. Presidential race? Of course not. Worst mass murder in US history? We'll talk about it a little bit. But the real focus? What some rich dude who runs a chicken restaurant believes about one of the most controversial issues in America.)

This ignited the expected calls for boycotts from his opposers and financial support from his supporters. This is nothing new, of course. Americans LOVE the concept of boycotts. Two things excite Americans more than anything: voting and the almighty dollar. Boycotts are like heaven on earth, because it is voting WITH your dollars! Win-win!

I cannot count the number of times I have heard people say that you should boycott a company because of something they said, or support a company because others that you disagree with are boycotting them.

I have heard of Christians called to boycott Amazon, Oreo, Home Depot, Starbucks, Google, Microsoft and Target (probably more, those just jump to mind). All of these boycotts are because of the beliefs of what their founders or CEOs. (Non-Christians in each case were urged to support these companies, to counter-act the boycotts and show support.)

I have heard of non-Christians called to boycott Boy Scouts, Chick-Fil-A, JC Penneys, Wal-Mart, and others because their founders made pro-Christian statements. Christians of course were encouraged to support these companies to counter-act the boycotts.

And both sides take turns calling for boycotts of Disney.

If this is how you choose to make product purchases, I have no problem with it. We all make our decisions of how to spend our money in different ways. I try to buy high quality products at good values and reasonable convenience. Others think that they should buy products from companies whose owners have similar beliefs to them, guess we want to make sure that the rich guys who agree with you get richer than the rich guys who disagree with you? Anyway, whatever is fine with me. No problem.

As for me...I find all boycotts stupid. Let me make a couple of quick points that you should consider before boycotting someone:

1. Boycotts hurt the workers WAY more than the owners.

I have worked in several major companies, so let me tell you how it works. This is not cynical, this is reality. Companies employ people. Some of them are poor, some of them are middle class. Very, very few are rich: basically, only the CEO, VPs, and Board of Directors are likely to be rich in any major company. So the vast majority of the employees are not, in fact, rich.

When you boycott a company, here is what happens: if the boycott is ineffective then there is no impact; if the boycott is effective, then the company loses revenue. If it loses enough revenue, the company is no longer profitable. And when a company is no longer profitable, here is what it does: it cuts costs to try and stay alive. It closes stores or factories, costing local people just struggling to get by their jobs. It then cuts wages and benefits, again making lives on its workers harder and harder. Families are affected.

You know who is generally not affected during a boycott? The leadership. You see, most CEOs, VPs, and other high ranking executives are the last to lose their jobs. They just keep earning millions while the employees get let go. If the VPs/CEOs/etc do lose their jobs, their contracts usually have huge "golden handcuff" clauses, and they walk away with millions of dollars which otherwise could have kept more employees their jobs.

The simple fact is that when you boycott an organization, you are not really hurting its owner at all--you are hurting its employees, many of whom are struggling to stay employed and many of whom in fact may be just like you.

Homosexuals who are boycotting Chick-Fil-A? Somewhere is a gay Chick-Fil-A worker who is going to lose their job because of these boycotts. Christians who want to boycott Amazon because their founder gives money to gay rights activists? Somewhere is a Christian warehouse worker who is going to lose his job because of your boycott. Meanwhile, the owner will still be rich, fat, and happy.

But hey, at least it is making your voice heard, right? Yeah, about that...

2. Boycotts won't change the owner's mind, nor likely anyone else's.

Do you know what has never happened in the history of mankind? An honest "conversion by the sword." Muslims and Christians (to both of our shame) have in the past tried to force people to convert. People in forced conversion situations may say the right things publicly, but they still believe whatever they want. In fact, they probably believe even more firmly against the ones trying to force them to believe in something. That's human nature: I will rebel against anyone who tries to force me to believe or do something.

Likewise, never in history has anyone said, "Huh. You know, those people cost me my job by boycotting. I rather think I will change my lifelong belief system as a result!" Also, never has anyone said, "Boy, those boycotters really screwed over THAT guy's life. I definitely change my beliefs to agree with them!"

That's not human nature. It's not how people work. The BEST CASE SCENARIO for boycotting is that you get people to stop saying something publicly that offends you. That's the BEST CASE. And, as I said in #1, you likely cost some people their jobs as a result of this.

But hey, even if it only hurts the "little people", and even if it won't change anyone's mind, the boycott at least shows companies that they have to be careful about our wrath, right? Well...

3. The only real result of boycotts, lawsuits, and other such "penalties" is that they increase the amount of crap products companies make.

Boycotts, lawsuits, and other things meant to penalize companies not only hurt the 99% more than the 1%, and not only fail to change anyone's opinions, but they also result in slowing innovation and making crappy products. Why? Well, at my company for example we have a crack staff of extremely expensive attorneys on hand at all times in case we are sued. We also have an entire PR department who is very highly paid to "massage" our message and ensure we do not offend anyone. We are very careful about doing things which could result in lawsuits or boycotts or loss of customer support.

As a result, a sizeable portion of any major company's budget is actually spent on these sort of things--instead of, say, investing in R&D or increasing the salaries of the factory workers who are just trying to get by. It is not uncommon for companies to spend 5-15% of their revenue on legal/PR type which could be re-routed into charitable works, R&D, better salaries, or even in the owner's pockets (increasing the stability of the company to provide jobs over the long run.)

This is why I generally do not really care for boycotting. Millions of people are working for a paycheck to support their family, and most of these people neither know (nor give a rip about) what their owners believe. Boycotting the company hurts these 99%, not the 1% at the top. It is the poor single mother who gets laid off, not the owner. All that it will do is re-route money which would have gone to jobs and instead puts it into legal and PR funds, and pays for golden handcuffs for the rare executives who actually are affected. And it isn't going to change anyone's mind--they just may condescend to you more, offer a half-hearted public apology, and keep their thoughts to themselves in the future.

If you choose to do boycott, that is fine. But remember, you aren't creating the effect that you intend. If your boycott is effective at all, the owner simply downgrades to a less-vintage type of champagne while riding on his yacht: the people whose lives are ruined are the everyday workers (who are likely more similar to you than they are to the owners).

As for me, I am going to use the "vote" of my money to reward the companies who are providing quality products with good service at affordable prices. Am I going to eat Chick-Fil-A on "Appreciation Day" this week? Yes, I am. I probably eat Chick-Fil-A once a week, every week, and I see no reason to stop now. Just to thumb my nose at boycotting, I plan on spending Tuesday googling something on Google, buying it on (both pro-gay companies) WHILE EATING CHICK-FIL-A (anti-gay company). Whether my kids join Boy Scouts of America is going to be based on whether it is good for them, not the political beliefs of the heads of the Boy Scouts. I am going to go to Disney and buy from Home Depot and Target and use Apple products and get my office supplies at Office Depot, even though each of these companies has at least one political philosophy with which I disagree.

Why? Because I understand how companies work. You think boycotting is sending a message to owners who disagree with you? It isn't. It is costing regular people their jobs, and hurting our economy, which affects everyone. That's all it is doing. People, capitalism only works if we use our money to support products and generate commerce, not as some sort of "unofficial vote".

Do your voting in the voting booths. Stop the boycotts.


  1. Great post!! And if you don't mind, I'd like to share it on my blog.

  2. Holy mackerel! Common sense, on the Internets? Thank you, sir!

  3. I would add that things like "Appreciation Day" also affect people negatively. If I worked at Chik-fil-a, I would have been dreading today. It's not like high volume days make the staff more money, they are paid hourly, not on tips. So they're making the same minimum wage but serving several times the volume of people that they normally would.

    Also, I agree completely. Our dollar vote should be for the best product, not for the personal beliefs of a CEO.

  4. Lauren Harris @Lo57302 August, 2012 15:09

    What great, logical insight. Would you mind if I shared on Twitter?

    1. Lauren, of course, feel free to do so!