#BoycottFedEx marks a shift from brand safety to human safety

The (almost) blanket ban on gun sponsorship marks the start of a shift from brand safety to human safety. But it’s time marketers stop looking at their finances and start considering the human risks, argues Sydney-based marketing insights expert Mel Carnegie.

When you search ‘gun’ on Google, you won’t see any big name brand ads come up. If you click through to one of the links returned by your search, you won’t see any there either.

‘Gun’ is now such a dangerous word for brands that it is listed twice in the top 20 blocked keywords for January 2018 (IAS). Keyword blocking is how marketers ensure that their brands are ‘safe’ from appearing in ads on websites that use keywords they don’t want to be associated with. Like ‘gun’.

Refreshingly, marketers are not just busy keeping their brands safe, and over the past week since the Florida school shooting, have moved to disassociate themselves from guns by dropping discount offers for NRA members, taking the NRA logo off marketing materials and such like. (Although some, like Fedex, are holding out.)

This sends a signal that the safety of the humans who actually buy their products is driving commercial decisions; not the other way around.

A signal that the cynical commercial superficialities have been cracked by the raw, urgent appeals from teens and their families who have lost their lives or their friends, and that might be next.

A signal that these businesses are willing to sacrifice whatever sales revenue they were making from their association with guns and gun ownership to (hopefully) be part of a different future.

Is this sales revenue the true measure of their sacrifice? To many people, any amount would seem a cheap price to pay if it helps save innocent lives.

Although it is UPS (United Parcel Service), who have the contract to ship purchases from the NRA’s online store, it is Fedex who have a marketing alliance with the NRA, affording discounts on Fedex services to their members. It is apparently just one of hundreds of alliances they have in their program, but Fedex is getting no cover from the crossfire by hiding in those woods.

Victims have now started a boycott against Fedex (#boycottfedex) for not ceasing this discount agreement since the Florida school shooting in February. Fedex is standing its ground, justifying this decision (as quoted in Time magazine) by saying that politics or beliefs have never entered their business decision making equation, so they won’t now. They will not ‘respond’ to the current situation and pleas from victims by changing their rates for a customer/customer group.

Which has its merits in an ‘equal treatment for all’ kind of way, but seems a totally cold and inadequate way to respond to people who have only just escaped being shot down in cold blood at school, or seen their child or friend leave for school and never come home.

‘Never’ can only ever refer to the past, and times have changed. Maybe it is time for this to change too.

This is a time when for marketers, every person who has an opinion or is in grief can post it directly to a large (and much more sympathetic) audience on social media. Everyone is a customer or potential customer with the ability to very publicly and visibly call out brands that don’t walk their talk on values. Calling out can soon be followed by cutting out, as is now happening to Fedex.

Consumer boycotts and business sanctions can force change quite quickly, much quicker and easier than lobbying, protesting, voting or waiting for the wheels of legislation to grind. Many marketers took the boycott route to getting action on brand safety from Google and Facebook last year. This system gets things done, and is popular with the many short-termists.

But we need to consider that in this system of governance, money is power.

Those with the time and resources to shout loudest on social and broadcast media are heard. If this gives them the power to govern the behaviour of others without any checks and balances, then outcomes may be unintended and adverse.

Australians live in a country where our Prime Minister was elected to represent the interests of one of the wealthiest electorates in the nation, and is the largest individual donor to the party he leads. The last New Zealand Prime Minister and the current US president are also wealthy businessmen who have waded into politics.

So money is talking, literally, in our Parliament and others every sitting day.

At the risk of being labelled a crusader by the cynics in our industry, I urge all marketers and businesses to join the change: let your business decisions follow a moral imperative, not just a financial one.

Show your customers that they are your clear priority.

Corporate advocacy played a very positive role in the recent equal marriage rights debate, perhaps because the final outcome was determined democratically. Only change that is democratically decided will give all of your customers an equal say.

Put humanity into your intelligence by all means, but put intelligence into your humanity as well.

Mel Carnegie is an independent insights contractor. She has previously worked for MediaCom and Salmat.


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