COMMENTARY | There’s a good reason “they” don’t advise talking politics over dinner: Political rants are costing businesses prestige with customers. Take, for example, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter’s insistence that due to the Affordable Care Act, he was cutting workers’ hours and pay, and would be raising the cost of his pizzas.
An Applebee’s franchisee, Zane Tankel, claimed he’d stop hiring workers and building restaurants because of the health care act. And Macy’s stood by Donald Trump despite customer pressure to drop him as a spokesman.
Well, according to BrandIndex.com, all publicity is not good publicity. Reports the site, the consumer perception of Papa John’s and Applebee’s has plummeted since the public political statements. Macy’s saw brand loyalty drop as it rebuffed a petition to sever its relationship with Trump.
It’s not only the issue of disliking what a company representative says or for what he stands. Behind it all is the nagging problem of having your money siphoned to causes you simply don’t support.
Schnatter, as has been widely reported, lives in a 40,000 square foot home with a 6,000 square foot guest house. The average American home in 2010 was about 2,400 square feet.
When you remind yourself that the evil that Schnatter decries is providing access to health insurance for his low-wage workers, it’s difficult to muster sympathy. It’s even more difficult not to muster comparisons to Ebenezer Scrooge before he’s visited by ghosts.
Likewise, Trump, for many of us, does not engender warm fuzzy feelings. He’s had many extraordinarily rude and unthinkable things to say about women, and given that women are, apparently, more likely to hold a shopping grudge, picking him as a partner, let alone sticking with him, is a questionable strategy.
With money playing an ever more visible part in politics, and people very conscious of where they’re willing to spend, political diatribes from people far outside the realm of politics seem like an obvious thing to avoid. And yet we’ve created a culture where the wealthy feel insulated from everything, where it seems that their money, and their money alone, should be enough to grant them the right to do or say whatever they want without repercussion, w hether they are human, like Schnatter, Tankel or Trump, or corporate, like Macy’s and Papa John’s.
Here we have the real lesson of a free market, one the beneficiaries of the system seem to forget until it turns around to bite them. With a free market, consumers have choices, and they will use a range of information to make those choices.
Pushing a political agenda that doesn’t match the agenda of your customers makes those choices very, very easy for consumers. While we spent much of the election talking about the impact of money, no matter what happens with campaign finance, consumers do — and always will — vote with their dollars.