For 45 minutes, the men walked through the brewery, talking about American success stories and the plight of U.S. businesses under the Obama administration (despite the fact that Yuengling has been described as Obama’s favorite brew).
“My father’s going to make it a lot easier for business to function,” Eric Trump told the room, according to the Reading Eagle. “We’re going to do it right here in the U.S.”
Then Yuengling, 73, who turned the struggling family business into a $550 million enterprise, who shoved the beverage into the marketplace and who oversaw its rise as a cheap but dignified working class beer, offered the embattled and nosediving GOP nominee a political gift: his company’s endorsement.
“Our guys are behind your father,” Yuengling said. “We need him in there.”
But in 2016, the problem with mixing a business brand with politics — whether the subject is same-sex marriage, gender identity and especially issues and figures as polarizing as Donald Trump — is that you run the risk of alienating your consumers.
Just ask Target, Chick-fil-A or the Republican presidential candidate himself, whose Trump brand has suffered significantly since he announced his bid for the White House.
So it should come as no surprise that within days of Yuengling’s declaration of support, loyal drinkers launched a boycott — at least they declared as much on the Internet.
Due to distribution limitations, avid Yuengling fans often go to great lengths to retrieve the traditional lager, like one Kentucky man named Todd who tweeted that he makes regular 90-mile Yuengling runs to neighboring Ohio. Not anymore.
“Supporting racist, misogynist nut-job Trump is the end of the line for me,” he wrote on Twitter.
One woman said she’ll exchange her Yuengling for wine. Others pledged allegiance to the beer’s long line of competitors: Rolling Rock, Pittsburgh Brewing Company, Brooklyn Lager, Modelo.
Bars in Washington, D.C., have announced they’re no longer stocking the brew, and one manager at the gay bar JR’s posted a video to Facebook that shows him removing the labeled Yuengling handle from the tap.
“Just so you know, when people support things that don’t support us, then we don’t support them,” David Perruzza says in the video, referencing Trump’s running mate, the equally polarizing Indiana Governor Mike Pence. “So goodbye, Yuengling, you are the weakest link.”
And probably the most substantive call for a boycott came Wednesday, when Pennsylvania state representative Brian Sims, who is gay, wrote on Facebook that after consuming the beer for 17 years, he planned to say goodbye.
“I’m not normally one to call for boycotts but I absolutely believe that how we spend our dollars is a reflection of our votes and our values!” he wrote. “I won’t reminisce about your product or lament any losses. Goodbye, Yuengling and shame on you.”
He later wrote a separate post, tagging at least 16 bars in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, some in a corner of the Center City neighborhood called the Gayborhood.
“Our communities know a thing or two about voting with our dollars and I won’t be using my hard-earned dollars to give power to any company or person who hates me, what about you?!?” Sims wrote.
He ended his post with a spin on a hashtag used often by liberals this election season: “#LoveTrumpsYuengling”
The brewery’s Trump endorsement and the call to boycott its brand has been likened to the widespread rejection of fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A in 2012, when its president said that same-sex marriage was “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” The president later pledged to concentrate on the selling of chicken and keep the company out of politics, and even ceased donating money to many of the anti-gay organizations it had been criticized for supporting.
The same happened to Target this year, when the department store denounced controversial legislation in North Carolina that required people to use the bathroom that matched the gender listed on their birth certificates, seen widely as discriminatory toward people who identify as transgender. Conservatives pledged to boycott Targets across the country, and for months after stores seems to be plagued by outbursts, altercations and lengthy, disappointed social media essays.
In August, CNN reported that Target had experienced a 7 percent sales drop compared to the year prior, a change that conservatives claimed as proof their boycott worked. Company chief financial officer Cathy Smith, however, told CNN there was no evidence the boycott caused the drop.
In response to the public outcry, Target later announced plans to expand the use of gender-neutral, single-toilet bathrooms across all its stores, a $20 million solution.
What’s tough to figure out is if brand “boycotts” actually matter to a company’s bottom line. Ivo Welch, a professor of economics and finance at UCLA, says no.
“Boycotts almost surely will never work,” Welch told Freakonomics Radio earlier this year.
This is mostly because there are too many loopholes, he explained, too many ways to get around the boycott. But a government-backed boycotts, like trade sanctions or embargos, are far more effective because they are actually enforceable.
“Those are very different from boycotts. Boycotts are basically just part of the population. They’re not really enforced. They’re not really legal. They are very leaky,” Welch told Freakonomics Radio. “So those have never worked, as far as I can tell. Embargoes may work; boycotts almost surely never will work.”
Even if a company’s bottom line isn’t affected, that doesn’t mean its brand — and reputation — won’t be.
What’s interesting about the Yuengling case is that its owner, Dick Yuengling, has never before been shy about his political affiliations. A lifelong Republican, he has lobbied for union-busting legislation and donated to the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush, reported CNN.
Yuengling drinkers knew, or could have easily discovered, that the chief executive was conservative.
But in this election, conservative does not automatically mean Trump supporter.
Some, though, saw the official confirmation as a blessing.
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