George Boardman: When it comes to boycotts, apparently two can play that game | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: When it comes to boycotts, apparently two can play that game

George Boardman
Columnist

Consumer boycotts of businesses for real or imagined shortcomings have become a staple of protest in our hyper-sensitive times, but it turns out businesses can also play this game.

I’m not talking about businesses that reject deadbeats, people who return 90% of their online purchases, or customers who wear a garment once and then return it for a refund. I’m referring to Patagonia, the clothing manufacturer that says it’s “in business to save our home planet.”

The Patagonia fleece vest, aka the Power Vest, emblazoned with a corporate logo has become the garment of choice for high tech and fintech bros. The garment is worn by the Jared character in HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” and you’ll see plenty of them in San Francisco’s high-tech ghettos.

But not for long. Patagonia has announced it will limit its corporate sales to do-gooder B corporations, companies with a charity element or that have committed to supporting causes like “community” or ‘the environment.”

Those evil hedge funds and Uber-for-X tech startups? They can go pound sand. As one reseller explained to a rejected client:

“Due to (Patagonia’s) environmental activism, they are reluctant to co-brand with oil, drilling, mining, dam construction, etc. companies that they view to be ecologically damaging. This also includes religious groups/churches, food groups, politically affiliated companies/groups, financial institutions, and more.”

I’m not the Patagonia type (that would be my daughter), but I buy items from other outfits like New Balance and Nike that prefer to be associated with a more youthful demographic than mine. I’ve spurned the vehicles of my now deceased elders — Cadillac and Buick are about the only ones left — in favor of Honda and Toyota, manufacturers geared to a younger vibe.

But I’m confident they’ll keep selling to me as long as I can pay for their products. Most corporations tend to be all inclusive in that regard. As for Patagonia, I hope the company’s gear can remain popular for the company’s sake — it would create an existential crisis if they had to put profit before principle.

Cash? Ugh!

Then there’s the businesses that don’t want your cash anymore, a small but growing trend that suggests the same elitist approach Patagonia has embraced.

Cashless businesses — which will take credit cards and debit cards and payment apps but no currency — are becoming more visible every day. Amazon, which seems to be in the forefront of practically every trend, has opened some cashless brick-and-mortar stores, and Starbucks has experimented with the idea. Trendy restaurants like Tender Greens are already onboard.

There are certain advantages to this policy — for the businesses, anyway. Cash is a nuisance that just encourages people to steal it, and as pot retailers have learned, you incur extra costs just to protect it. And who besides drug dealers carry around large amounts of cash anyway?

Several studies show people tend to spend more money when they don’t pay cash, and that’s a tendency every business likes to encourage. Then there are the customers businesses like to discourage.

Many people (think poor) don’t have bank accounts, and even more lack the credit history or means to obtain a credit card. Lower-income Americans depend heavily on cash, according to the Pew Research Center, with 29% of those making less than $30,000 a year paying for most or all of their purchases with cash.

That prompted San Francisco supervisors to pass an ordinance requiring brick-and-mortar businesses to take cash as payment, joining Philadelphia and the state of New Jersey in banning a practice critics say discriminates against the poor. The legislation’s sponsor said the measure “will go far in ensuring all San Franciscans have equitable access to the city’s economy.”

The state should pass similar legislation because, if you’re like me, you prefer to pay cash for small purchases so you don’t have to account later for all of those annoying debit and credit purchases. Now, if they could just pass a law banning people in the express lane from paying for a $2 item with their credit or debit card …

Ad of the times

It has been said that advertising — particularly television advertising — reflects the times, our fears, hopes, aspirations. If that’s the case, we’ve become a more cynical and mercenary lot in the last 40 years.

That thought occurred to me recently while watching a commercial featuring Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid. It caused me to flash back to a more innocent time, 1979.

That’s the year Coca-Cola ran an ad featuring Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene. He seemed to be more laid back than mean off the field, but Greene was considered a terror on the gridiron in his prime.

The commercial opens with an injured and battered Greene walking down the tunnel of a stadium toward the locker room. He’s intercepted by a young boy carrying a Coke, who offers it to Greene. He first refuses, then takes it after the boy tells him he’s the greatest. As the boy walks away, Greene yells “Hey kid, catch” and tosses him his jersey. Mean Joe has a fan for life.

Now fast forward to Embiid, who currently appears in a commercial for streaming service Hulu. For reasons too complex to explain here, Embiid is known as “The Process,” but in the ad he’s shown autographing basketballs as “Joel ‘Hulu has live sports’ Embiid.”

When a young boy asks him why he changed his nickname, Embiid leans down, pauses for a moment, and says, “Money.”

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.


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