As buzzwords go, “authenticity” is one of the more mysterious ones. And the quest for it has led American businesses to the spot where they now find themselves, a spot conveniently located between a rock and a hard place.
When it became apparent about a decade ago that aspirational marketing, or marketing your goods and services to feed the unending desire of humans to “keep up with the Joneses,” was no longer an effective strategy on the younger generation, a whole bunch of “experts” jumped out of the woodwork to make sense of it.
Apparently, according to these experts, millennials had cast aside the human nature of millennia and decided they were more interested in experiences than things and craved authenticity in the products and brands they purchased.
The first part I can understand even if I don’t necessarily agree but the second part is a real head-scratcher. What is “authenticity” to a publicly traded corporation? To authentically desire to maximize profits and authentically increase shareholder value are the only things that come to mind.
When a big corporation starts trying to convince you they have values other than those, they are just making stuff up and telling you what you want to hear, much like a dude attempting to pick up a gal in a bar. Just because he says he’s looking for love and not a one-nighter and fails to mention he’s got a wife and kids at home does not necessarily mean any of those things are true.
The problems started when those corporations started pretending to have morals and values they did not possess in order to win customers, again not unlike our friend in the bar.
Well now it’s come back to bite them in the butt because roughly 40 percent of Americans are overtly hostile to the values of another 40 percent who are equally hostile right back. I suppose the good news is that the remaining 20 percent don’t care or aren’t paying attention.
So if your “authentic” corporate values please 40 percent of the customer pool, they are guaranteed to tick off another 40 percent and heaven help you if you get caught in the cross-hairs of presidential Twitter-fire.
Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom is the latest business to get caught up in this mess. Back in October when #GrabYourWallet became a thing after the Access Hollywood tapes leaked, Nordstrom found themselves at the top of a list of almost 80 businesses being boycotted because they did business with or contributed to the Trump family. (Nordstrom sold Ivanka Trump merch in their stores and online.) They refused to take the goods off the shelves as they were selling well at the time and made a statement reported in Fortune, “We strive to be agnostic about politics and to treat all our customers with respect.” It is fascinating that they chose a word with religious overtones to make that statement.
By late last week, Nordstrom made a statement that sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise had deteriorated to the point they would not be re-ordering, a decision they claim was made for purely business reasons. Still they managed not to achieve any positive results. Since they are still selling the merchandise they already have in the stores, they haven’t been taken off the boycott list but did spark the ire of the designer’s father on Wednesday who used his infamous Twitter account to trash Nordstrom, whose stock promptly fell half a percent and then ended up over 4 percent for the day. Quite the roller coaster.
Meanwhile, 13 businesses have managed to disentangle themselves from the Trump family sufficiently to be removed from #GrabyourWallet’s boycott list. Neiman-Marcus must have the best PR team in the world because there has been barely a story and nary a tweet about their breakup with Ivanka.
TJ Maxx and Marshall’s are apparently so freaked out they are not discontinuing Ivanka Trump merchandise but taking down signs with her name on them and hiding her goods amidst racks of other merch, a strategy so bizarre that I can’t fathom what results they are hoping for.
On the other side of the aisle, to coin a phrase, Budweiser suffered a backlash from their legal immigration themed Super Bowl commercial that has resulted in #BoycottBudwiser trending on social media. #BoycottBudweiser is also out there but has been much less successful. Biting my lip as I type, I will refrain from further comment on that.
In a somewhat interesting twist, my beer of choice, Yuengling, is on the #GrabYourWallet boycott list. Supposedly, the founder of the company endorsed Trump but that seems unlikely since they’ve been in business since 1829 and he can’t possibly still be alive. Perhaps they sell Ivanka Trump swag in the brewery gift shop. Anyway, they’re on the list.
It may surprise you to know that I have several good friends who are ardent supporters of Donald Trump. They are equally passionate about Bud Lite and I’m sure are now far too embarrassed to purchase it. Perhaps we can initiate a beer exchange. I’ll buy your Bud if you’ll buy my Yuengling.
I keep hearing we should come together as a nation. Frankly, I don’t see that happening for at least a generation but I do dare hope that we can bury our differences enough to help our friends buy, without shame, the beer of our choice.
Yeah, I think we can manage that.
Reach Bill at 336-415-4699.