Yogi Berra and ethical choices

(19 June 2018) – Someone once asked Yogi Berra why he didn’t go to Rigazzi’s restaurant in his hometown St. Louis. “No one goes there any more,” he answered, “because it’s always too crowded.”

It was an old joke when Berra said it, but he’s owned it ever since. It fits his reputation for wisecracks.

For those who don’t know, Berra was the all-star New York Yankees catcher for most of his baseball career. He played on 10 World Series winning teams and coached or managed another three. When he dropped out of school after grade 8, he got a job working at Rigazzi’s.

This came to mind earlier today while I was catching up on the CBC news. Specifically, the article Hudson’s Bay, other stores pressured to dump Trump products, amid tariff tiff.

A campaign to boycott anything and everything associated with Donald Trump received a shot in the arm from his imposition of trade tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and the idiotic things he’s said about Justin Trudeau. I’m not a big fan of our Prime Minister, but I’ll stick up for him in a fight with the American President any day.

Reporter Sophia Harris quotes a couple of marketing consultants: “According to Toronto-based strategy adviser Mark Satov, boycotts generally don’t work. If the Bay has reduced Ivanka Trump’s merchandise, it’s because consumers simply aren’t buying it.”

What this tells us is that retail stores like the Bay, Winners, Nordstrom, and others are not dropping Trump related products because of politically inspired consumer boycotts. It’s simply because too many people are not buying them any more.

Some marketing experts don’t want us to think boycotts can be effective. Evidence tells us otherwise. When a good cause captures the public’s attention, a boycott will get results. Look at South Africa as a prime example. A global refusal to purchase any goods and services from that country helped bring down the racist and oppressive apartheid regime.

More recently, we saw what happened when people threatened to cancel their Netflix subscriptions unless something was done about Kevin Spacey. Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg nipped a growing #DeleteFacebook campaign in the bud after revelations emerged about data mining excesses. All it took was a public apology and the implementation of meaningless privacy policy upgrades that look good on paper without disrupting his basic business model.

As social media campaigns go, #MeToo has been highly effective while #DeleteFacebook has not.

Boycotts can work. Not all of them do because many fail to capture the public imagination or reflect the public mood. There is no central clearing house for them. No organization is empowered to approve or reject calls to boycott something. All of them begin life as individual ethical decisions. They hit the tipping point when enough people agree, and the individual statement grows into a collective one.

The consumer choices we make are always guided by the ethical standards we hold. Sometimes the decision is clear and easily understood. At other times, it isn’t.

For example, there was a time when I would buy a KitKat chocolate bar or a bottle of San Pellegrino juice. Now I will not, because they are owned by Nestle’s and I chose to tighten my refusal to give that company any of my money. Other chocolate bars and juices are readily available.

I deleted my Facebook account and opened one on Instagram, even though it is owned by Facebook. I don’t object when these blog posts are shared to other people’s Facebook pages.

I will not set foot in a Wal-Mart, but will spend money in Costco or Home Despot or other big box stores. There are gradations of evil and we all make up our own minds where to draw a line in the retail sand.

I prefer to buy groceries at Zehr’s rather than Market Fresh or Goodness Me because Zehr’s is unionized and the others are not.

I have never stayed in a Trump Hotel, played golf on a Trump course, or bought jewelry made by his daughter’s company. My abstention from all things associated with the American president is so complete that I haven’t even played a game of euchre since November 2016.

When an ethical choice becomes a community statement, a boycott is born. It’s a remarkably easy form of protest. As Yogi Berra said, “If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”