Boycotters and the challenge of taking a stand

Boycotting a company is like being committed to something in a big way. It’s like getting married.

Like marriage, you are making a declaration that’s public. A formal representation of something you’re standing for. It’s no longer just a private aggravation. Deciding to actively, publicly boycott a company is a big deal. When you take that stand, and have a public presence that is noted by others, it’s even more of a challenge.

Just like marriage, everyone has an opinion on how you should do it. Whether they’re boycotting as well, or not.

Like marriage, there’s challenges. Some days you wonder why the heck you got into this. Why was it so necessary to you to take such a public stand? Couldn’t you have just quietly avoided those products? The challenges come from all over. There’s the ones that come from within, as you stand in the supermarket with a whining kid who really wants a chocolate bar and Nestle brands are what they’re reaching for.

When others who are not boycotting question you about your position, with a judgmental attitude, sometimes you wish you’d kept it to yourself.

This satirical plate from 1775 depicts Edenton North Carolina women's tea boycott. That's a cause I could never get behind.

When others who are also boycotting question you over things you say and do, it’s also something that makes you wish you’d kept it to yourself. Sometimes it seems too hard. It sometimes must feel there is very little solidarity in a boycott. You’re on your own path.

However, just like a marriage, when it goes well, it’s amazing. Someone thanks you for opening their eyes. People ask honest questions, trying to find out why you are boycotting and you feel heard. You sleep better at night knowing that you’re being true to something you hold dear. Some people respect you for your beliefs. The wise ones also respect your view even when they don’t share it.

The irony is, of course, that boycotting a company should feel more like a divorce than a marriage.

Oh please, not Nestle again…

Only for a second, okay?: Right now I feel very strongly for every woman who is trying to find her feet with their dislike of Nestle. While I don’t personally boycott the company, I, like many others, try to purchase alternatives. If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know the various battles Nestle has had over the last 30-plus years due to shoddy business practises. But boycotts have been in operation for many years – and whether it’s Proctor and Gamble, Segregation, or whatever other company or practice – boycotts gain a focus on the boycotters as well as whatever it is they’re boycotting.

So where do you stand?

There are other issues which are incredibly important to many, and are socially worthy, but which I just don’t pick up a placard for. Lots of good causes and social ills that need attention. Food, mosquito nets, pedophilia, gay rights, pollution…. it’s all too much.

So we each pick something. We must. If we don’t get irritated and active about something, then we get the world we deserve.

Boycotting KFC - made more difficult or easier when Susan Komen's cancer charity benefits when you buy a bucket?

Today I realised that we need all kinds of people. We need everyone to be aware of things that some feel important enough to be labelled as ‘activist’ about. Even if the cause is not one you personally agree with, having respect for those who do, and finding out why they hold such strong beliefs is key – it’s all about tolerance, understanding and respect.

If we all shared the same level of commitment, on the same exact causes, then many would go without attention. It’s not necessary for everyone to believe everything to the same level – but it IS necessary for everyone to try and understand, and appreciate other people’s positions and beliefs. Take out the judgment, and just get to know the other position. Only then can a conversation happen.

The harder facts: What your alignments say

Beyond Nestle, the greater lesson is that in 2010, the year of the Active Voice Blogger, the people who take a public stand on a cause have far greater social capital and value than any blogger with 50 or more brand associations on a seemingly endless telemarketing stream. The fact is, it’s easy to be popular. It’s easy to sell out. That’s not real social capital. When something really matters, nobody will take you seriously when you’re spouting about the wonders of bagels, cheese, Disney, baby wipes, orange juice… all before lunchtime. Bloggers are not the print Womens Weekly, with 20 pages of ads before you get to real content. Bloggers operate on credibility gained through authenticity. That’s a key difference to traditional media. More irony: bloggers can’t afford to be seen as similar to traditional media. That stream of freebies and short-term gains is drying up.

The alignments an organisation makes also reflects on its credibility. Perhaps BlogHer, in its 80 sponsor relationships, needs Nestle on board to run the conference it wants to hold. Perhaps it doesn’t.

I love knowing women who make a stand. Especially when it’s obvious that they’ll put their beliefs first, knowing they’re cutting off any future potential relationship with (ie income from) a company. Because when those people turn around and say something’s great, I’m more likely to believe them. I could not be more proud of the fact that my roomie for BlogHer 2010 is none other than @phdinparenting, who is the most authentic, giving and gracious boycotter who is typical of many I meet – her actions are fully considered and from the heart. I am sure we’ll be having long night conversations. And I simply can’t wait. Annie is smart, switched on, committed and continually self-examining – yet, not afraid to lead the charge and stand up for what she believes in.

That’s unusual.

Irony number three: It could be there is no greater brand ambassador than a boycotter – and these are the hardest people to convince to spout your messages.