Ben and Jerry’s, just a week before the midterm elections, released a new flavor of ice cream called “Pecan Resist” as a criticism of Trump’s presidency. Approximately seventy five thousand dollars were donated by the company to various groups, including Women’s March, which is partially headed by Linda Sarsour, a known supporter of noted anti-semite Louis Farrakhan.
Ben and Jerry’s has consequently faced criticism for their support of Women’s March, but the company stands by its decision. The situation Ben and Jerry’s has found itself in is not dissimilar to other companies’ attempts at political influence.
Ultimately, it’s in the best interest of companies to lay off public political endorsements if their goal is to evade criticism. It’s too risky for a business to subject itself to scrutiny given the availability of information on the internet. People’s mistakes and troublesome opinions are archived online forever, and dedicated online individuals will find them at the appropriate time.
Ben and Jerry’s endorsement of Women’s March wasn’t necessarily an endorsement of the individuals involved in the organization, given that the founders of Ben and Jerry’s were raised Jewish. However, when every aspect of an organization is scrutinized, it’s much easier to find a flaw, which is the issue with public outrage that attempts to equate an individual’s opinions with the larger work of the organization they’re involved with.
Outrightly, a company supporting one political party has already alienated half of its customer base, but even its intended target might find something to criticize given enough time and research. Companies should stick to underhanded political endorsements and lobbying, which influence a government more directly and without the polarizing effects of publicity. Through direct monetary manipulation, a company can expect that its endorsements will be less likely to be criticized by an unsuspecting public looking for little more than their next simple-carbohydrate fix.
Given the risk of criticism involved and the fact that companies can involve themselves in much safer political contributions, it seems that companies have learned there is something to gain from public political endorsements regardless of criticism. Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick, for example, gathered the company substantial profit at the height of its controversy. Similarly, Ben and Jerry’s stock went up nearly five percent following the new flavor’s release. Starbucks also found unusually high profits after their support of refugees, which outraged many conservative customers.
Regardless, customers should care more about business practices which directly impact their well-being and stay within the bounds of the law, like fair treatment of employees and food quality. Who can know how genuine a company’s political endorsements are, given the financial incentives? It’s best to not partake in public relations schemes for the time being and realize that individual business leaders can’t always be expected to share your political opinions.
Some compromise is necessary when making purchases which involve yourself with monolithic companies like Ben and Jerry’s, Nike, and Starbucks. The psychology of mass consumption is simply different from that of micro-boycotting a particular small business like a corner store or a single restaurant.
Henry Pineda is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at email@example.com.