Pepsi boycott by AFA could increase sales

Some boycotts are devastating to a company's business. And then there's the American Family Association. The infamously conservative, religious organization is known for its annual trashing of companies it believes slight Christmas in their advertising for the holiday season. And now the AFA has gone gonzo over gay support. Specifically, the supposedly gay agenda of PepsiCo Inc. (PEP).

Immediately upon announcement of the boycott, my Twitter stream was peppered with friends who've decided they're now drinking Pepsi -- even the ones who don't typically drink sodas. Say what you will about the new logo and its resemblance to President Barack Obama's campaign logo, Pepsi has got to be telling itself (again), "any publicity is good publicity." And some, is better.

At the heart of the boycott is this ad shown in the U.K., in which a man in a bar passes by two women (one geeky, one chesty) to approach another man, much to the horror of his two male friends (who thought he was going for Ms. Nose in a Book). The letter to Pepsi from the AFA says that this, along with a previous homosexual-tinged ad "serve two purposes for Pepsi: to sell Pepsi and to promote the homosexual lifestyle."

Whether this ad does, in fact, promote the homosexual lifestyle (or show how it's a source of horror and disgust for your straight friends), isn't really important. What's more important is whether boycotts by the AFA have any negative effect on a company's sales; or if they, in fact, have the opposite effect. Does the AFA's ire help a company more than it hurts?

Other boycotts appear to have had little impacts on sales, whether it was the boycott of McDonald's for joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, or the boycotts of Lowe's and Target for their limited use of the word "Christmas" in their advertising. On the other hand, the AFA claimed absolute victory in a Ford boycott for advertising in gay media, pointing to several slumps in sales during the two years its boycott was in effect; although no media outlet other than those with a clear religious conservative bias agreed that the boycott and the sales depressions were connected (the boycott took place during an industry-wide slowdown in sales of SUVs and light trucks).

A few quarters after the McDonald's boycott was launched, the company recorded a healthy increase in sales; this could also be attributed to consumers trading down from fast-casual restaurants in a depressed economy, but at least one liberal website called it a victory for gay rights organizations.

Pepsi was targeted in early January for its gay support thanks to the combined $1 million donated to the Human Rights Campaign (which promotes equal rights for gay people) and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and though some loyalists have signed on to the boycott, it seems to be ignored by the mainstream audience. The rare exception is the consumer who, despite having never particularly cared for a company's products, now decides to choke down a diet Pepsi from time to time. As one commenter said, "Anything the AFA boycotts, I BUY!"

The advertisement was, by all accounts liberal and conservative, fairly tasteless. The effects of its brief airing, on the other hand, may provide more street cred to Pepsi than an advertising campaign could; a nice, full-tilt boycott by the AFA. Pepsi, perhaps inadvertently but with great conviction, made the right move here.

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