Academic journal article International Management Review

A Conceptual Topic in Marketing Management: The Emerging Need for Protecting and Managing Brand Equity: The Case of Online Consumer Brand Boycotts

Academic journal article International Management Review

A Conceptual Topic in Marketing Management: The Emerging Need for Protecting and Managing Brand Equity: The Case of Online Consumer Brand Boycotts

Article excerpt


The emergence of social media platforms has expanded the communications reach of consumers who have become increasingly vocal through boycotts about the misdeeds or malfeasance of companies that market products or retail brands. The marketer has enormous control over the use of one-way communications that build and enhance brand equity. However, the evolution of the two-way, online communications, both internal and external to the firm, has grown in its proportions in the last six years, and it is indeterminable as to how much more expansive it will become. The growth of the social media platform poses immediate communications challenges in the management of brand image and reputation. This essay frames the nature of boycotts, their potential harm to brand equity, strategies for managing consumer boycotts, and the need to provide instruction to emerging marketing and brand managers.

[Keywords] marketing management; social media; boycotts; brand; online brand equity


Over the last twelve months, I have routinely received emails from friends, colleagues, church members, and political and environmental advocacy groups asking me not to purchase certain products or not shop in certain retail stores. In the beginning, I paid little attention to these request until I noticed the intensity of the plea language, the frequency of the requests, and the brands of products or retailers named in the emails. As a professor of marketing management and a serious adherent to the idea that brand equity is one of the most valuable assets a firm can possess, these boycott-calls-to-action requests are problematic. The idea that there is a persistent and virulent online effort to dissuade consumers from purchasing branded products or to not shop at retail (brand) stores is worthy of investigating the nature of these online efforts, or activism, to boycott these brands and how marketers will need to become proactive in protecting the equity of their brands.

The latest review of marketing management and brand management textbooks do not specifically address the imminent threat to cyber brand equity management. Beyond the normal cyber threats to firms, consumer boycotts have emerged as more than a nuisance for many firms; a quick Google measure of online boycott references as of November 11, 2011, for Walmart (1,750,000), Nestle (847,000), Nike (1,440,000), Ralph Lauren (380,000), Georgia Pacific-Koch brothers, (632,000) demonstrate a few examples. The composition of the boycott references refer to websites, blogs, videos, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, RSS feeds etc. To date, it is unknown what the financial losses attributable to online consumer boycotts are and, specifically, there are no publically known metrics that help firms measure the discontent and actual boycott behavior. However, an indicator may be Aria Foods of Denmark, a producer of dairy products that was hit with a consumer boycott throughout 20 Muslim countries that caused daily losses of $ 1.8m (The Economist, 2006).

Some firms are beginning to respond, however, although most brand companies have not taken a full inventory of their vulnerability to online consumer boycotts and initiated formal or structural ways to cope with consumer-based boycotts. Consumer boycotts are believed to be short lived; however, some boycotts have the potential for greater long-term harm. Animosities and their effects of sales may persist because they often are rooted in deeply held beliefs and because there may be limited options (e.g. the boycott against Wal-Mart's policies of unfair gender -based labor policies) for the company to address the protest (Ettenson et al., 2006). Shebil et. al. (2011) proposed an analysis and framework for coping with boycotts driven primarily by activist groups intending to target countries. Little has been done to formulate a framework for consumer boycotts and integrating the discussion into instructional materials for educating prospective marketing product or brand managers. …

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