Thursday September 1 2005
What do Nike, Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Nestlé have in common? Apart from being among the world's most well-known brands, they happen to be the most boycotted brands on the planet.
That finding came from this week's global GMIPoll, an online opinion poll that surveyed 15,500 consumers in 17 countries.
Nestlé emerges as the most the most boycotted brand in the UK because of what respondents consider its "unethical use and promotion of formula feed for babies in third world countries."
On its website, Nestlé said it managed to put an end to the controversy over its marketing of infant formula in the developing world in the 1980s. It acknowledges that the issue remains alive in some quarters, "but there is no longer any significant boycott activity".
Nevertheless, it is quite remarkable how the Nestlé boycott, keeps ongoing, like the Energizer Bunny, more than two decades after it was launched and how in some people's minds, the company remains inextricably linked to the promotion of infant formula in poor countries.
GMIPoll found that Nestlé was boycotted by almost twice as many UK consumers than McDonalds, the second most boycotted brand in the UK. According to the poll, 36% of UK consumers say they boycott one or more brands.
However, the keenest boycotters are the Chinese, with more than half of the respondents saying they refused to buy products from certain manufacturers. Denmark(49%) and France(46%) came a close second and third.
Mexican and Japanese consumers seemed to be most tolerant with only 15% of Mexican respondents and one fifth of Japanese respondents avoiding particular brands.
The Chinese cite bad publicity (negative media coverage of brands) as their reason for boycotting brands. Chinese consumers said they avoided mainly Sony and local brands.
The dislike for Sony is understandable given the feeling of antagonism the Chinese harbour towards Japan, related to the history of conflict between the two countries. The dislike of local brands is more intriguing and more ironic given the way Chinese goods are snapped up in the west. As Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, is finding out, western consumers can't get enough of Chinese-made bras and T-shirts.
In other findings, more than a third of consumers worldwide boycott at least one brand, while a fourth of all consumers worldwide also claimed they were "environmentally responsible" or "socially responsible" when they shop.
"These findings will be very concerning to these adept marketing companies, as it demonstrates the risk to the value of their brands. Clearly they are not connecting with their local marketplaces as well as they could," said Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of marketing consulting firm International Marketing Partners.
But let's not overestimate the power of consumer boycotts. Nestle, in the first six months of this year, made a profit of 3.7bn Swiss francs (£1.63bn), up 32% from a year ago. Nike, Coke and McDonald’s are also highly profitable companies, despite their less than stellar public image. And let's not forget Exxon, the environmentalists' nemesis, is the world's most profitable company.