Power of the Purse: Consumer Activism Emerges As the New Feminist Brand
Women have learned the hard way that sometimes the best way to get a point across is to hit ‘em where it hurts: the pocketbook.
For decades, “ad men” in the mold of Don Draper have been fully aware that, at least when it comes to shopping, the ladies have it. Women currently make up an estimated 85 percent of consumer purchases, according to Bloomberg. From computers to cars to groceries, females are the ones making the majority of buying decisions that power the American economic engine. Even so, the path to feminist consumer activism has been long and winding.
Once upon a time, the realization that women are critical to a brand’s success brought about advertising that pandered to tired tropes about what women want, promising to turn us into domestic goddesses with perfect kids, perfect hair and impossibly thin waistlines. But in the glorious new era of social media, the news started to come out that that’s not what women want at all.
Small wins began to trickle in as corporate America realized that, too. To much acclaim, Dove started its “Campaign for Real Beauty” in the early 2000s, highlighting a more diverse group of women than were usually featured at the time. A decade later, American Eagle’s lingerie brand Aerie announced its decision to stop using Photoshop on its models. Even Sports Illustrated has jumped on the body positivity bandwagon, with its 2017 edition featuring four plus-sized models and a number of female athletes who are known for their strength as much as their beauty: tennis star Serena Williams, gymnasts Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, and more.
The taste of victory is addictive. Turning around harmful physical stereotypes is an important achievement, but even more important is the widespread realization that women can harness their collective purchasing power for the greater good. Using the power of the purse, women can make our voices heard, and women across America have not hesitated to speak up.
Enter Shannon Coulter, the digital marketing specialist behind the “Grab Your Wallet” campaign to boycott stores selling Trump-branded products. Angered by the now-famous video where Trump essentially brags about committing sexual assault, Coulter used social media to mobilize like-minded women for the boycott.
The boycott appears to have had huge success, even if its direct impact can only be approximated. Brands like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus removed Ivanka Trump’s name from their website. T.J. Maxx and Marshalls removed all of their Ivanka Trump signage, sending it straight to the trash. If we’re to believe the retailers, who are bending over backwards to maintain some semblance of being apolitical, this is supposedly just a giant coincidence.
Boycotters were satisfied with the wink-and-nod approach. Even without an outright acknowledgement that their actions were behind the removal of Ivanka Trump products, Grab Your Wallet removed Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus from their list of boycott targets. They added an asterisk with an explanatory note about the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.
If there was a Republican blowback against the companies, it certainly has not been reflected in their stock prices. Nordstrom’s stock was $43.51 when the change was announced Feb. 2 and $44.74 March 10. TJX Companies, Inc., which includes both T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, saw a rise of 4% since news broke on February 8 that they would stop promoting Ivanka Trump products, rising from $75.51 to $78.19 during trading March 10.
Politically-tinged consumer activism, of course, can work both ways. Pro-Trump activists have also gotten into the boycott game, targeting PepsiCo (for comments by CEO Indra Nooyi expressing opposition to Trump), Starbucks (for announcing a plan to hire 10,000 refugees shortly after Trump’s refugee ban) and the musical Hamilton (for its actors’ statement to Vice President Pence that was perceived by some to be too critical). Unlike the anti-Trump Grab Your Wallet campaign, though, women do not appear to be at the forefront of the pro-Trump movements, nor do they appear to have a formal leadership structure.
On both sides of the political spectrum, the consumer activism movement shows no signs of slowing down. As it continues to grow, women stand to gain. As the ones who make the overwhelming majority of purchasing decisions, companies have good reason to take our concerns seriously. The takeaway for many women is that rather than resist the stereotype that women love to shop, we should embrace it and use it to our advantage. The power of the purse is real.