What will the blowback be?
That’s the question CEOs have to ask when deciding whether to sever ties with the National Rifle Association, as nearly 20 companies have done during the last week or so. The answer: There may not be any blowback at all.
Surveys by YouGov BrandIndex, which measures the reputation of prominent brands on an ongoing basis, has found no meaningful decline in the reputation of companies such as United, Delta, Avis, MetLife and Symantec. All have ended affiliations that gave NRA members discounts or perks.
In some cases, the reputational score of such companies actually improved slightly. United’s score, for instance, improved by 4.6 points, while Delta’s went up by 1.5 points. YouGov computes scores by asking survey respondents whether they have a positive or negative impression of a brand. The worst possible score is -100 (totally negative) while the best is 100 (totally positive).
United’s score improved from -2.4 to 2.2. Delta’s improved from 0.5 to 2.0. Airlines generally rate neutral, which means roughly the same portion of people have negative views as have positive ones. The score improvements don’t necessarily mean all consumers have a slightly more positive view of the two airlines. More likely, some people react strongly in both directions, while others barely react at all. The net effect is a slightly improved reputation.
Of 17 brands that have broken ties with the NRA, 9 improved slightly in YouGov’s surveys. The rest were essentially unchanged. None showed a measurable decline.
YouGov doesn’t consider any of those moves statistically significant. “It doesn’t look like there is likely to be positive or negative short-term impact on business results,” Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov Data Products, told Yahoo Finance. “Some brands will no doubt attract boycotts, but the data suggests those are not likely to stick or have much impact.”
Certain consumer brands have been grappling for years with the right way to address concerns about gun violence without alienating gun owners. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Fred Meyer, a division of Kroger, have all announced new changes to their policies on gun sales, such as ending the sale of assault-style weapons and raising the minimum age for a gun purchase.
Is the NRA on its heels? Perhaps. But the NRA’s real power is political, thanks to millions of dollars in donations to gun-friendly politicians, and shrewd tactics in terms of candidates it chooses to back. Even so, the NRA has been out of step with mainstream views on guns for years, since Americans favor modestly stronger gun laws, which the NRA is dead-set against.
If there’s a message in the latest data, it’s that companies facing off against the NRA have less to fear than politicians who do.
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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman