When Levi Strauss announced it was going to start funneling money toward gun control efforts, we knew things were bad. Not for the Second Amendment, at least, but for how divisive our culture has become that a company felt this was a smart business move. Levi Strauss decided it needed to give the middle finger to half of its potential customers and figured it was a safe bet to do so.
That’s not particularly good.
What’s really bad now is that the company’s doubling down on the effort by joining forces with none other than Michael Bloomberg.
Levi Strauss & Co. is taking a stand against gun violence, an unexpectedly political move from the all-American denim company that could turn off some customers — but also win it points with a new segment of shoppers.
The San Francisco-based retailer said last week it is pledging more than $1 million to support nonprofits and youth activists who are working to end gun violence. The company is also partnering with Michael Bloomberg to help create a coalition of business leaders who support gun control measures and encouraging employees to get involved in political causes.
“The gun violence epidemic in America has hit a point where something has to be done,” chief executive Chip Bergh said in an interview. “It’s inevitable that we’re going to alienate some consumers, but we can no longer sit on the sidelines and remain silent on this issue.”
He added that consumer reaction so far has been “generally very, very favorable and supportive.” (A couple of shoppers, he added, have even asked him to run for president.)
That’s because the rest of us are no longer shoppers, but please, do continue your preening.
The retailer is the latest in a string of high-profile companies, including Nike, Patagonia, Yuengling and REI, to wade into highly political debates. The wave of corporate activism, experts say, is one way for businesses to connect with politically minded shoppers, even if they risk offending others. Either way, they say, consumers are increasingly comfortable voting with their wallets — and aren’t afraid to support or boycott companies based on their views.
“In a world where they no longer expect the government to fix things, people are turning to Corporate America to step in and do some good,” said Peter Horst, founder of marketing consultancy CMO. “Consumers increasingly want to engage with companies whose values match theirs.”
The problem, however, is that if Corporate America tries to “fix things,” they’re going to have problems. A lot of people have sworn off many of those listed brands. Nike, in particular, is being mocked unmercifully on social media. Its ad campaign has become a meme, some of which are absolutely incredible–one with a picture of 9/11 hero Todd Beamer with the “Stand for something, even if you have to sacrifice everything” is particularly poignant–and others are hysterical. All, however, have managed to turn Nike into a joke with a lot of consumers.
Businesses don’t exist to solve problems. They exist to make money for their stockholders. Period.
By stepping into politics in such an overt way, they are alienating parts of their customer base. Remember how everyone got outraged because Mozilla CEO Brendon Eich made a donation to a group that opposed gay marriage? He did that as a private citizen and got hammered for it.
But now CEOs are using company funds to pay for their crusades.
What’s particularly worrisome to me is that this new partnership with Bloomberg plans on “encouraging employees to get involved in political causes.” The problem is, which causes? Will employees who support the Second Amendment receive the same support as those who oppose it? I know where I’m putting my money.
As things currently stand, we’re facing the possibility of having two countries within the same borders. While we may all have to follow the same laws, we’ll have two completely different cultures with their own businesses and activities thriving, simply because those businesses and cultures have made it clear they don’t want the other side around.
Well, as it stands, there are a lot of companies to buy blue jeans from other than Levi Strauss, and I suspect a lot of people will do so right away. Sure, Levi Strauss might be reporting a boost, but Dick’s did too. For a short while.
What happens after?