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Boycotts don't usually work

...... but it's a calculated move on both sides, as seen with anti-oilsands and anti-Alberta lobby groups in BC.

A recent decision by Tim Horton's brings up some perspectives on the effectiveness of product boycotts. In this case the company caved in to a politically-correct petition instigated by some anti-oilsands, anti-Alberta lobby groups in BC. Apparently Tim Horton's had the impudence to show paid advertising in their donut outlets in BC. from Enbridge, a well-known Alberta pipeline company. This so offended anti-development lobby groups that they initiated a petition threatening to boycott Tim's unless they removed the Enbridge advertising. God forbid BC citizens be exposed to any alternative opinions about the energy they consume and how it gets delivered to them. The company fearing any negative fallout took down the Enbridge advertising and hoped the matter would quickly fade away. This is not an unusual approach; the worse fear of any retailer is to have their product seen in a negative perspective by consumers and buyers. The usual response is to give in to perceived threats, or buy off the perpetrators or disgruntled customer.

These are calculated decisions by companies and involve anticipated costs, liability, brand image, and short and long term damage to sales. In this case Tim's probably figured that getting rid of the pesky petition was worth the short term loss of sales by perturbed energy workers who might be offended by the slight to their industry and any possible counter boycott. The company rightly figured that their outlets are so pervasive and dominant that even if energy industry folks wanted to counter boycott their products it wouldn't work in the long-term being there is no real competitor in many areas.  Besides your humble writer knows from much experience that Tim's has the best honey cruller donut on the planet. Tim's will win this dust-up, but it does set a precedent as triumphant green lobby groups will be targeting other weak-kneed retailers.

Agriculture is familiar with boycotts but they have a mixed history. The most famous and successful boycott involved California grapes in the 1960s-1980s. This had to do with unionizing grape pickers, it galvanized consumers and grape sales were affected. Subsequently, grape growers gave in to unionization and the boycott ended. There has been no comparable successful food boycott, but there are different ways to skin a cat. The food sector has become an increasing target for a different type of indirect boycott. It comes from a different angle and involves fearmongering. We have all heard the tedious green group propaganda against antibiotics, steroids, GMOs, factory farming and on and on. The industry has traditionally relied on science and common sense to thwart such spurious allegations.

Processors and food retailers have generally gone along with the production sector relying on government regulations and health standards to protect the consumer. Most food retailers follow the rule that it is bad for business to kill or poison your customers. But that hasn't stopped fast food operators like A&W from using fearmongering as an advertising tool by implying that their competitors are using bad ingredients. Unfortunately gullible consumers believe the implication which has caused A&W competitors to seek out ways to neutralize that fearmongering. One way is to indicate, some would say threaten, the production sector with a buying boycott if certain standards or restrictions were not implemented. Whether they are scientifically or health justified is beside the point.

An example is the antibiotic issue, big meat buyers like MacDonalds and Walmart have made it clear that in the near future they will probably not be buying any meat that has been raised with the added use of antibiotics and steroids. This is a threatened boycott by any definition and the meat production sector will have to change – resistance will indeed be futile. The EU already in fact officially boycotts beef with added hormones and antibiotics, it is just a matter of time when it will be enforced in the rest of the world.

Finally there is some ironic humour in the decision by Tim Horton's to capitulate to green lobby group pressure. The issue involved the banning of advertising by an energy company, yet most every Tim's outlet is guilty of contributing huge amounts of unnecessary polluting emissions on a daily basis. That would be due to the countless thousands of vehicles that wait with engines idling in their drive-thru facilities. If Tim's was truly committed to the improvement of the environment they would address that outrage. However, I expect it's easier to give into politically-correct petitions than any real action. Another case of BC hypocrisy on environmental issues.