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The Russian business you’re boycotting isn’t actually Russian

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The Russian business you’re boycotting isn’t actually Russian

He poured out the liquid — blueberry-flavored, orange-flavored and the original, face-puckering unflavored version — tweeting #DumprussianVodka and, at gay bars across the country, accompanied Absolute and soda instead.

It was 2013, Vladimir V. After Putin implemented drastic new measures aimed at LGBTQ Russians.

And now, as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine takes a horrific human toll, turning millions of refugees into refugees, the boycott is back: American consumers angered at Russia for ditching Russian-produced products, some Likewise, with relations with Mr. Putin.

The problem with that argument is that Americans rarely consume a product that is actually Russian. That goes for vodka – and oil, too. Russian oil makes up 3 percent of Americans’ daily consumption.

This misconception has led people to penalize businesses that are actually Russian in name only. Some states that have recently banned Russian spirits found they were instituting a policy that affected only two brands with a small footprint domestically – Russian Standard and Ustianochka. President Biden on Friday announced a ban on all Russian wine imports. But less than 1 percent of the vodka consumed here comes from Russia, a beverage industry trade group has noted.

The vodka most but unfairly associated with Russia, Stolichnaya, has again suffered the brunt of online calls for boycotts. It has been produced in Latvia since 2002, and its parent company, the Stoli Group, is headquartered in Luxembourg. Last week, the company formally rebranded its signature spirit just as Stoli after bar owners Vermont Michigan to Iowa announced they would no longer serve it and shared a video of themselves dumping bottles of it down the drain.

In New York, the famous red banquettes at the Russian Tea Room aren’t full of patrons these days. But the restaurant’s Russian heritage is a little sleight of hand. It was opened in 1927 by a Polish immigrant who called it the Albertina Rash Russian Tea Room—after a ballet dancer who was Viennese, even though many at the time assumed she was Russian.

In Chicago, a Russian-style bathhouse called Red Square is reported to have received strange phone calls from people trying to find out if it has taken a side in the war. But Red Square is co-owned by a man who was born in Ukraine and said he still has family in the country.

In Washington, windows at the Russia House restaurant near DuPont Circle were smashed and a door broke. Its co-owner told local media that the business, which has been closed since the pandemic, has nothing to do with Russia. According to its website, which advertises the caviar spread as the kind of indulgence that many Americans associate with the Russian collapse, one owner fought in the Gulf War and the other originated in Lithuania.

The false anger of the backlash against Russia has been an instructive development for those who study consumer habits, shedding light on the ways that boycotts are particularly ineffective and often used as a tool of protest in the social media age. in adverse. A staple of American political resistance since the Boston Tea Party, the boycott has been instrumental in shaping public opinion about demonstrations for social progress. Civil rights bus boycotts in the South and vineyard boycotts in the 1960s and ’70s fueled meaningful change to opposing conditions for agricultural workers.

But despite a rapid increase in the number of boycotts aimed at large corporations, this is no longer true today. A study by a pair of scholars, Maurice Schweitzer of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Joseph Gaspar of Quinnipiac University, found that boycott calls against Fortune 500 companies had nearly tripled since 2010. The study, which has yet to be published, also found that the most common trigger was politics.

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A boycott call can be effective by creating bad publicity, which temporarily tarnishes at least one company’s brand image. Sometimes they prompt companies to change, as was a backlash against SeaWorld over its treatment of orcas. The company announced in 2016 that it was ending its breeding program, meaning it would now have the last generation of killer whales in its theme parks.

But more often, consumer boycotts fail to make much of an impact on the target company’s bottom line because they’re too tough to either, as people discovered when they tried to shun BP gas after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Tried, or because they prompt enthusiastic feedback from consumers who want to support a company precisely because it is under attack.

After the chief executive of Chick-fil-A opposed same-sex marriage in 2012, mayors of liberal cities such as San Francisco and Boston said the Southern fried chicken eatery should look elsewhere to open new restaurants. Conservatives such as former Baptist preacher and two-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rallied their followers to support the series. Its nationwide expansion continued at a rapid pace, and there are now Chick-fil-A restaurants from Brooklyn to Seattle.

Mr. Schweitzer of the Wharton School said of discarding certain products, “it turns out to be either too tasty or too convenient.” He said another factor is the sheer volume of news that people find politically motivated. “It’s something to be angry about on a weekly or monthly basis,” he said. “And while the emotion feels raw and powerful in the moment, we fail to appreciate how fleeting it is.”

One reason the boycott continues to grow despite their ineffectiveness is that many people assume that they stick to their guns when they are not.

A draft of a new study by scholars from Northwestern University, the University of Toronto and Harvard Business School examined the impact of several recent politically motivated calls for action, including a boycott or, conversely, a “boycott” following their announcement in 2017. campaign is included. That he would hire 10,000 refugees. The move was made by former President Donald J. The move came in response to Trump’s order halting immigration from mostly Muslim countries.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 consumers, obtained their actual spending at Starbucks over several months and asked whether they had changed their buying behavior because of the refugee declaration. They found that those who reported that they had changed their habits—either by buying more in support of Starbucks or boycotting it—didn’t really do anything differently.

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Katie Dessels, professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management and one of the study’s authors, said the results showed that people of all political persuasion believed what they wanted to be true about their behavior. ,

Researchers were surprised to find there was no measurable effect on spending with such an emotionally charged and highly publicized issue.

“We thought that if we were going to find an effect on people’s behavior this would be it now,” Ms DeCells said.

As research – and current anti-Stoley sentiment shows – the anger involved in consumer exclusion often lacks coherent logic. Although some states, such as Pennsylvania and Oregon, do not include Stoli in their Russian spirits ban, New Hampshire has. A spokesman for the state’s Liquor Commission confirmed that because Gov. Chris Sununu’s order applies not only to Russian-made products, but also to “Russian-branded” products, Stoli is off shelves at state-run stores. Will stay

Damien McKinney, chief executive of the Stoli Group, said in an interview that business losses have been caused by misconceptions about the brand. He recalled a recent conversation with the head of a major UK retailer, who had informed him that Stoli was about to be pulled from its shelves.

“I said, ‘Do you know we’re Latvians?’ And there was a break,” Mr McKinney said, refusing to name the retailer. As he spoke, the background of his Zoom screen was framed in blue and yellow of the flag of Ukraine with the hashtag #StandWithUkraine. “I needed the people to understand that we are on the side of the good people. And this is about an evil man and a regime, not about the Russian people,” he said, noting that Stoli was on the side of the Russians. Also employs Ukrainians.

Like many businesses, Stoli has no singular identity that is easy to portray. Its recipe is Russian, as its name suggests. “Stolichnaya” roughly translates to “metropolitan”. The company’s founder, Yuri Scheffler, fled Russia after a dispute with the government over control of the Stoli trademark. He lives in Switzerland today. For years, Russia has fought Stoli in court over the rights to claim ownership of the name. The company makes its bottle caps and some of its bottles in Ukraine and recently moved five Ukrainian employees from the country to Cyprus and Luxembourg, Mr McKinney said.

The Russian Tea Room, where only a handful of tables were occupied during the pre-theater rush on Fridays, has a similarly complex lineage, despite the name. Its current owner is a New York real estate developer. But it started in 1927 as a popular hangout among Russians who moved to America and became citizens. A New York Times story from 1977 about the restaurant’s 50th anniversary noted that the restaurant was guarded by exiles who called themselves “White Russians” to distinguish themselves from Lenin’s “red” Bolsheviks. Was.

And nearly a century later, drawing those distinctions with the Moscow regime is as important as ever. On the restaurant’s website, a pop-up banner statement on the war in Ukraine welcomes visitors, noting its history as an institution “deeply rooted in speaking out against communist dictatorships”. It added, “We stand with Putin and the people of Ukraine.”

Kristen Noyes contributed to the research.


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