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January 20, 2019

Want to organize a successful boycott? Avoid these 4 pitfalls.

Skip the boycotts if you want to let a company you’re not happy with their actions; learn why they rarely work as planned and what you can do instead.

Boycotts must work.

After all, they are the go-to response when groups are displeased with a company’s actions.

Lots of activist groups have used them:

Christian groups boycotted Disney World to show their displeasure with “Gay Days”, an event which filled the theme park with LGBT visitors and their families.

Feminists and anti-religion supporters picketed Hobby Lobby to show their displeasure with the company’s refusal to provide birth control that would end embryonic life.

Supporters of gay marriage called for boycotts and “kiss-ins” at Chik-Fil-A restaurants to let the world know they weren’t happy with the company founder’s support of traditional marriage.

These boycotts were successful, right?


Gay Days still go on at Disney World. Women still buy craft supplies and home décor from Hobby Lobby. People still brave lunch crowds and long drive-through lines to get food from Chik-Fil-A.

So, what happened?

There are a few reasons why these and other boycotts failed:

  1. The organizations have brand loyalty.
  2. The angry mobs weren’t part of the business’s key customer base.
  3. The angry mobs went after the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
  4. Their key customer base turned out in droves to support them during the protests

You can’t beat brand loyalty

Let’s take a second look at Disney World. When some Christian organizations called for the boycott over “Gay Days,” many families turned the other cheek.


Brand loyalty.

Generations of children around the world have grown up on Disney, and the love of Mickey Mouse is virtually universal.

Parents who never had a chance to visit Disney World as a child want to take their kids, and those who had the childhood Disney experience want their sons and daughters to experience the same magic.

It’s the happiest place on Earth where you can actually meet Mickey, Winnie the Pooh, Goofy and all the princesses. Disney’s customer service is beyond outstanding, and the staff treat you like royalty.  Who DOESN’T want to go there?

If you’re not a key customer, you’re not going to hurt them

After the Supreme Court ruled faith-founded Hobby Lobby did not have to provide abortifacients in its employee healthcare coverage, feminists and anti-religion supporters picketed various locations of the craft store and called for others to boycott the retailer.

However, the outraged feminists and anti-religion crowds didn’t have much impact. They’re generally not in the demographic that frequents craft and home décor stores like Hobby Lobby.

What demographic does?

Women with families. For Hobby Lobby, it’s a lot of Christian women with families.

Since the angry groups weren’t regular customers of the chain, their displeasure didn’t hurt Hobby Lobby’s bottom line. The groups can boycott them for years, and it won’t make a bit of difference because they never spent money there in the first place.

 The reality is that unless your group is a key public for that business, your boycott won’t affect them at all. Boycotts work best when the disgruntled crowd is a key customer group, one that brings in a lot of revenue for the business.


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Why do so many boycotts fail? Few people pay attention to the folks spending the money.

Going after the wrong people for the wrong reasons

Back to Disney. The Christian boycotters sought to punish Disney World for an event they did not sanction or control; “Gay Days” was – and continues to be – sponsored and organized by LGBT travel agencies. Families that did a little independent research on the theme park or talked to travel agents knew that Disney was not connected to the event, and several media outlets also reported the same fact.

Disney welcomes everyone. All the time.

It’s important to note that other groups have had their “Days” at Disney World as well. These groups include Dapper Day Fall Soiree for folks who like to dress in vintage clothing and Jersey Week for New Jersey teachers and families attending their annual Orlando convention.

For the record, there is one official group event that Disney actually coordinates and supports – the annual “Night of Joy,” a Christian music festival at the Magic Kingdom park.

The anti-Disney crowd went after the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

The Parents Television Council went after the right people in 2011 when they were upset about “Skins,” an MTV series that focused on the sex lives, drug use and dysfunctional families of its teenaged characters.  Rather than public calls to boycott MTV, the group went after the show’s advertisers instead.

Advertisers wanted to run their commercials during the show because of its teen audience, and companies like Taco Bell, Subway, Wrigley, Foot Locker and L’Oreal were among “Skins’” original sponsors. However, the feedback generated from the PTC’s actions, as well as the shows’ racy content, made the sponsors realize the teen audience they sought didn’t have the cash to buy their products –  that cash came from Mom and Dad. The advertisers backed out, and within just a few months, “Skins” was cancelled by MTV.

Boycotts can energize the base and bring in new supporters

The Chik-Fil-A kiss-in and boycott crowd didn’t quite get the results they wanted.  Their efforts actually backfired because they brought out droves of Chik-Fil-A fans who showed up to counter their efforts. The supporters arrived en masse to buy food and fill the restaurants with capacity crowds.

In the end, Chik-Fil-A benefitted – and continues to benefit –  from the publicity and new customers it brought in. What do you see when you drive by a Chik-Fil-A today during the lunch or dinner hours? Lines. Long lines of cars wrapped around building as folks patiently bide their time in the drive-through line. Long lines of people inside ordering food. Frankly, everyone – regardless of how they feel about gay marriage – loves a delicious chicken sandwich.

Things almost always go wrong when faith-based groups call for boycotts

Faith-based groups need to be especially careful about calling for boycotts. When they make a public a public case denouncing something, the rest of the population rushes out to support it because their hand-wringing tells them, “If the religious folks hate it, it must be AWESOME!”

If Christians would just leave this trash alone, it will die on its own. [Tweet “When Christians raise a fuss, they inadvertently boost the trash’s popularity and profitability.”]

Faith communities condemned 2014’s “Noah” because it went way off the Old Testament’s telling of the Great Flood. Way, way off. With rock monsters, a psychotic baby killing quest and more.

The religious disapproval brought crowds into the theaters just to see what all the fuss was about. After losing 138 minutes they could never get back again, even secular audiences agreed the movie was crap. Nonetheless, the film still brought in more than $362 million from ticket sales.

When Christians called for a boycott over 2015’s “50 Shades of Gray,” they contributed to the hype and hysteria that generated more than $85 million for the film’s producers during the opening weekend. If the marketplace alone took care of the film, it would have flopped because nearly every reviewer – and viewer – panned it.

In the end, boycotts aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be. While there are situations in which they can be effective, most boycotts don’t achieve their desired goals and many end up blowing up in the faces of their organizers.

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