Who says banks can't learn beans from Goya?

Ivanka Trump. The NRA. FaceBook. SeaWorld. Chick-fil-A. And most recently, Goya Foods. 

Boycotts are back in the news and, of course, stirring debate about free speech, corporate social responsibility, and in the latest, how to make a passable Adobo without Goya ingredients.

Boycotts have a long and important history of contributing to progressive social change. In fact, individuals have been using their purchasing power to make a point since the late 18th Century. The Ethical Consumer points out that “one of the earliest examples was the boycott in England of sugar produced by slaves. In 1791, after Parliament refused to abolish slavery, thousands of pamphlets were printed encouraging the boycott.”

As we’ve been reminded just recently, however, boycotts can become "buycotts." According to NewsOne’s article, Goya Boycott Backfires As Trump Supporters Buy In Bulk And Finally Season Their Food, “the boycott of Goya, a minority-owned food company, has resulted in an apparent buying spree…”  True.  Have Goya sales been hurt?  It appears not. In fact, in the short term, it appears to be just the opposite. But then, when it comes to a boycott, is hurting a company’s profitability really the point?  Because if it is, not many boycotts have been successful. Measure success with a different yardstick, however – like changes in child labor laws and fair hiring practices, for example – and many boycotts have brought about the changes that supporters were hoping for. Those changes weren’t necessarily brought about by economic pressure and lost profits. They were, instead, brought about by the potential, long-term damage to a company’s brand reputation.

You Only Have One Brand Reputation.  Protect it!

With individuals and corporations alike putting their economic muscle behind causes ranging from immigration policies and a media company’s “handling of hate and misinformation,” to LGBTQ rights and the unfair treatment of entertainment industry animals, brands can easily find themselves in a reputational crisis. As we’ve seen, it doesn’t take too much or too long to do hundred-year-old brands irreparable damage… or, in some instances, lead to their hasty extinction.  A few recent examples of long-time brands that simply could not survive socio-economic pressure?  Uncle Ben’s, the Washington Redskins, and Aunt Jemima.

Some brands survive, some do not.  The few above did not, but Chick-fil-A, SeaWorld, the NRA… they’ve survived. In fact some, like Chick-fil-A, were able to market their boycott to their advantage. (See our “7 Things Chick-fil-A Taught Us About Marketing” blog).

Remember the 1982 Tylenol scare? A 2014 Time magazine article recounts how Tylenol’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, responded at the time: “Without a suspect to revile, public outrage could have fallen squarely on Tylenol; the nation’s leading painkiller, with a market share greater than the next four top painkillers combined. Instead, by quickly recalling all of its products from store shelves, a move that cost Johnson & Johnson millions of dollars, the company emerged as one that put customer safety above profit.”

What happened in the following years? Tylenol reestablished its brand relatively quickly, recovering the entire market share it lost during the cyanide scare. Though things could have gone very differently, the handling of that potential disaster was so exemplary that the case study has been documented by the Department of Defense and serves as a model for effective corporate crisis management.

According to that study, “Chairman James Burke reacted to the negative media coverage by asking himself two questions. First, ‘How do we protect the people?’ and second ‘How do we save this product?’ The company's first actions were to immediately alert consumers across the nation not to consume any type of Tylenol product. They then went on to warn consumers not to resume using the product until the extent of the tampering could be determined.”

How a company responds to reputational challenge, without a doubt, determines its future… or quickly eliminates any possibility of a future at all. As for Goya and the boycott/buycott, the company is currently enjoying an uptick in sales.  Are these buyers long term customers?  How does Goya's response to their brand reputation challenge compare to the way Tylenol responded to theirs? Will the company’s resistance to addressing issues that, it appears, have a negative impact on the brand’s core audience bring about long-term, irreparable brand damage?  Lots of questions. Let’s wait and see. We’ll probably have some answers in the coming months.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. To view our messaging, both print and digital, visit bankmarketingcenter.com.  Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.