Backfire? Ivanka line grabbing even more wallets after boycott

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There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Right, especially when others generate it for you. Either despite or because of a boycott campaign against Ivanka Trump’s designer line, they claim to have scored record sales in February, even after several stores stopped carrying it. The Hill notes the claim, which went viral earlier today:

Ivanka Trump’s eponymous women’s fashion line is reporting record sales figures despite calls for a boycott and controversies surrounding President Trump.

“Since the beginning of February, they were some of the best performing weeks in the history of the brand,” Abigail Klem, the president of the Ivanka Trump fashion brand, tells Refinery29 in an interview published Tuesday. “For several different retailers Ivanka Trump was a top performer online, and in some of the categories it was the [brand’s] best performance ever.”

The Refinery29 article takes a more cautious approach to this claim, though. Reporter Ana Colon notes that the line got a huge boost in online searches after the boycott, going from being ranked by Lyst eleventh among all brands by order count, and highest among all those in the Ivanka Trump Collection class of high-couture brands. That was an improvement from being ranked 550th the month before, so clearly the higher profile had a big impact in the immediate time frame around the boycott.

Lyst warns that it probably won’t last, though, and points to a similar spike in searches for pantsuits before the election, because of you know who:

However, the spokesperson for Lyst noted that despite having had a big February, “it’s fair to say the surge is not long lasting.” The platform historically observes engagement tied to current events: For instance, before the presidential election, Lyst noted a 460% increase in searches for pantsuits, which it speculated was related to Hillary Clinton. Because Ivanka Trump and her now-unaffiliated brand were widely reported on last month, that could have very well led people to seek out its products online. Plus, after news and tweets broke that some department stores would no longer sell the line (and as a response to the popular #GrabYourWallet protest), groups of Trump supporters pledged to continue to shop the First Daughter’s brand elsewhere, Business Insider reported. Now that the dust has seemingly settled — at least for now — will Ivanka Trump Collection follow up the flurry of media coverage with another successful month? That much is to be seen.

That might not be seen at all. Colon and The Hill both point out that the private collection does not routinely release sales results, so unless the news is especially good, the entire issue will probably drop off the radar screen. Ivanka’s line isn’t exactly intended for mass sales, anyway; it’s aimed at a boutique segment of the market, even if it has been carried by larger chains at times.

The dynamic between boycotts, publicity, and interest demonstrates why most boycotts are doomed to failure, even while being a perfectly legitimate free-market response. Most of the time people are unaware of them at all, but when boycotts do succeed in broad awareness, the first response is curiosity rather than rejection. A few succeed because of overwhelming scorn for the target of the boycott, but almost always the publicity bark is much worse than the bite.

In the late 1980s, for instance, director Martin Scorcese released the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ to a hailstorm of protests. Various Christian denominations demanded a boycott of the film, demands which generated more curiosity about the art-house film than it did outright rejection. Newspapers debated the boycotts for weeks, adding to the film’s publicity. It got good reviews at the time, perhaps influenced by the pre-release opposition to it, and did middling-to-good box office for a small-budget film. The New York Times reported a sold-out opening at the time:

After a month of protests and angry rallies by groups that consider the movie blasphemous, Martin Scorsese’s ”Last Temptation of Christ” opened today to long lines, sold-out theaters and scattered picketing.

People eager to buy tickets greatly outnumbered the protesters in all of the nine cities where the movie opened this afternoon. The largest number of demonstrators turned out in New York, where by early evening more than 500 people, many of them Greek Orthodox, were packed into a cordoned-off area in front of the Ziegfeld theater, with 100 police officers looking on. But the number of pickets remained small in other cities. …

In many cities the people waiting in line were defiant about their right to see the film. When one picket at the Century City Cineplex in Los Angeles admonished ticket buyers, many of the 150 people who were in line at 10:45 A.M. yelled back that they had the right to see the movie if they wanted to. In response to placards with the word ”Blasphemy,” a man in the ticket line waved a sign that said: ”It’s only a movie.”

The boycott turned out to be a bigger bust than the movie. I’ve even heard that Scorcese has managed to carve out a decent career since then despite the boycott, but don’t quote me on that.

Almost every public boycott has wound up producing similar results, especially purely political boycotts such as the one aimed at Ivanka’s clothing line. Those ignore the fact that politics leaves tens of millions of potential consumers on the other side of an issue, and that those people will rally to the side of a perceived political ally rather than join a boycott against them, even if they may not have been inclined to patronize that retailer beforehand. But both of those effects are short-term at best, which means that Ivanka Trump Collection will probably return very shortly to the previous trajectory of their sales figures … at least until her father’s political opponents see fit to provide it with another infusion of free publicity.

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