2012’s big trend: giant companies like Levi’s and Starbucks running scared of consumer boycotts

We’re in the middle of our ads of the year extravaganza (Paul Simons and Giles Keeble in the bag, Jerry Judge, George Parker, Stuart Smith and me still to come) but there’s no doubt what the movement of the year (no jokes please) for marketers is: consumer boycotts.

In the UK we’ve had Starbucks dishing out £20m in loose change to HMG followng criticism of its tax avoidance (Googe, eBay and Amazon are still hunkering down behind their accountants).

And it’s not a newly-found social conscience on Starbucks’ part behind the move (or not primarily), it’s the threat of a damaging consumer boycott that prompted the move. UK-based rival Costa has been reminding everyone that it pays all its taxes in the UK and its sales are booming, possibly at the expense of Starbucks and also Caffe Nero which doesn’t seem to pay very much tax either.

Now those battle-hardened campaigners at Greenpeace are wading into the fray with their global ‘Detox’ campaign, pushing fashion brands into cleaning up their environmental acts by agreeing to eliminate toxic chemicals in their products and supply chain.

Just eight days after Greenpeace released its Toxic Threats: Under Wraps report, Levi’s has agreed to eliminate these nasties – by 2020 admittedly, but it’s agreed nevertheless. In the social media age such campaigns can strike even the biggest companies hard and fast, as David Jones of Havas, to his credit, has been pointing out recently. Greenpeace is now taking aim at Calvin Klein, Gap and Victoria’s Secret (and we know how environmentally-aware those posh models are).

Greenpeace told brandchannel: “We’re not your grandfather’s Greenpeace anymore. We’re part of a new, building movement with a new set of people who are social media denizens. Brands see it’s not going away and that Greenpeace is communicating directly with their customers.

“Toxic-free fashion is the new frontier and Levi’s was a perfect fit with their ‘Go Forth’ message rooted in Americana, people doing what they love, not minding the rules. It was a roadmap for Greenpeace to follow, and a challenge to the brand to indeed go forth and be a leader in the space.”

Companies like Nike, Puma, H&M and Zara have already signed up, a positively lemming-like emigration to virtue. Why? Because they’re terrified of consumers and their boycotts too.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.