It takes more than a hashtag to mount a real Donald Trump boycott

Supporters of Donald Trump are finding that calling for boycotts of Fortune 500 companies can be easier than actually building one.

According to crisis communications consultant Richard Levick, a boycott called against Kellogg (K) after it pulled ads from the controversial Breitbart website “never materialized.” He estimated that the Twitter (TWTR) hashtag “BoycottKellogg” has been used about 300 times, including by critics of Mr. Trump. Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and Coca-Cola (KO), which are facing boycotts over their Super Bowl ads, have seen critical Twitter hashtags about 85,000 and 5,000 times, respectively.  

Starbucks (SBUX) is taking heat from Mr. Trump’s supporters for its plan to hire 10,000 refugees around the world over the next five years. Some of President Trump’s most ardent fans say the coffee company is ignoring the plight of jobless veterans, despite evidence to the contrary. #BoycottStarbucks has been used more than 404,000 times since January, with mentions peaking on Jan. 30 and falling signifcantly since then. 

However, Twitter hashtags are considered successful if they get mentioned by millions of users. And the five most retweeted tweets using the #BoycottStarbucks hashtag supported the company, according to Levick.

“The age of genuflecting to the president, which we saw in the final weeks of the transition and the first eight days of his presidency, is over,” Levick said. “[Some] companies have done the calculus and now realize that it’s in their economic, as well as their patriotic, interest to stand up for what they believe in and no longer embrace the president as a knee-jerk reaction.”   

Upscale retailer Nordstrom (JWN) is under presidential fire after cutting ties with the fashion business owned by Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka. In a tweet posted early Wednesday, the president blasted the chain for treating his oldest daughter “so unfairly,” as he put it. 

But Seattle-based Nordstrom publicly defended itself, arguing that Ivanka Trump’s merchandise was cut because it wasn’t selling well, and company shares actually ended the trading day up some 4 percent. TJX (TJX), parent company of TJ Maxx and Marshalls, also is no longer featuring her line, though it is keeping the merchandise in its stores.

For many of Mr. Trump’s supporters, his executive order to restrict immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries was the focal point of immigration-friendly Super Bowl ads from Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser, Coca-Cola and building supplies company 84 Lumber, even though that wasn’t always the stated intention.  

Budweiser 2017 Super Bowl Commercial | “Born The Hard Way” by BudweiserCanada on YouTube

The world’s largest brewer highlighted the story of its founder Adolphus Busch’s immigration from Germany in the 19th century. Coca-Cola’s ad, which was a rerun from the 2014 Super Bowl, spoke of the need for diversity. 84 Lumber’s commercial told the story of a Spanish-speaking woman and her child traveling to the U.S. who find a hole “in the giant wall.”

But the Budweiser boycott campaign has hit a snag because one of the boycott’s supporters spelled “Budweiser” as “Budwiser,” which has prompted critics to question how seriously consumers should take such a call for a boycott. Many Twitter users are also defending Coca-Cola.

84 Lumber, however, is continuing to take heat on social media even though CEO Maggie Hardy Magerko, a Trump supporter, said the ad wasn’t meant to be political.

“It isn’t about my beliefs, who I voted for, or the wall,” she said in a statement. “It’s about highlighting the characteristics of a person that will go to great lengths for a new opportunity. If the President wants to build a wall, then we want to make sure there is a door in that wall. A door that’s open to those who choose to enter our country legally.”

Of course, Mr. Trump’s opponents are calling for boycotts of their own. The anti-Trump site #GrabYourWallet lists dozens of companies that consumers could avoid because of their direct and indirect ties to the real estate tycoon. Ride-hailing service Uber recently was taken off the list after boycott pressure forced CEO Travis Kalanick recently to quit an advisory panel of chief executives that was formed to advise the Trump administration.

“Twitter activism is the least ambitious form of activism,” Levick said. “Taking it to the streets requires extraordinary inconvenience.”

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.