Chris Ivey, who blogs under the name “Shoestring Millionaire” isn’t actually a millionaire, as he confesses on his blog. He’s not some revered social media guru. But he does have some pretty good common sense when it comes to recognizing how companies can screw things up badly with ham-handed, yet hollow attempts at exploiting “corporate social responsibility” trends, and social media trends.
And he does a pretty solid job of how Chiquita — clearly looking to score some cheap brownie points, and then panicking over the damage that caused — has acted incredibly stupidly in announcing its decision to boycott oil from Canada.
First of all, he points out, grocery shoppers don’t normally give a fig about the ethics about most commodity products: we don’t have time to evaluate the corporate histories of every one of the dozens of products we stuff in our carts every time we’re at the supermarket. That’s actually lucky for Chiquita: for a company with a history entangled in terrorism, murder and corruption, the less shoppers know, or care, about its background the better.
Shoppers don’t care, that is, until you do something that backfires. As Chiquita did when it insulted Canadians by declaring that our oil was not good enough for its trucking fleet. The company’s boycott didn’t just anger Canadians: It angered Americans who understand that Canadian oil is a better fit with western, liberal, democratic values than OPEC’s conflict oil, too. As Ivey writes:
They responded to lobbying by a small group of environmentalists without thinking of the larger consequences of their act. The fact is that the viewpoint held by Forest Ethics is not universally shared by Americans. The White House decision to delay the Keystone project, (which has effectively killed it), has been widely denounced as a poor political decision that gains little for the environment while having the very real effect of eliminating thousands of jobs.
Regardless of where you might personally stand on the issue, five minutes’ research on Google would show that this is a controversial issue that any wise PR manager would tell you to steer clear of. There’s no conceivable benefit for a produce company to stake political capital in an issue which is bound to alienate a large part of the market no matter which side they choose.
That was Chiquita’s first mistake. Its second mistake was to begin censoring anyone who disagreed with its decision, by deleting comments on its facebook page that criticized Chiquita’s support for conflict oil. That just made customers angrier, and the flood of negative comments increased. Ivey took some great screenshots of the page, that showed how the battle between conscientious consumers and the banana barons played out. You can see them at the bottom of this post. It also sent all kinds of amateur researchers scouring the web to learn a little bit more about the company that would claim to be more ethical than our Canadian oil producers. And in Chiquita’s case — the company that inspired the term “Banana Republic” thanks to its support for corrupt dictators — there was a lot of dirt to dig up.
All of this has combined to get the media’s attention and now Chiquita is in the news not because anyone thinks it made the right decision, but because there’s debate over just how much damage its done with its decision to so directly insult one of its major export markets.
We expect other PR managers at other companies will think twice before allowing their company to become the next victim to Forest Ethics’ anti-Canadian pressure tactics after this. That’s good. When you’re dealing with an extremist environmental group like Forest Ethics, that’s known to exaggerate and fabricate, thinking for yourself is always a wise course.
Here’s those screenshots — proof of how badly this has all gone off the rails for Chiquita: