Boycotts, Petitions, Protests, Oh My: The Year in Consumer Outrage

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In TIME’s year-end wrap-up for 2011, consumer outrage was highlighted as a hot trend. A couple years later, consumers only seem to be more outraged—and savvier about getting their voices heard.

Here’s a look back at a couple dozen notable instances from the past year of consumers and advocacy groups boycotting, protesting, petitioning, or just venting about business practices they didn’t like:

Abercrombie & Fitch, Lululemon: Both apparel sellers came under fire—and were subjected to online rants and consumer boycotts—when executives made comments insulting women’s bodies.

Barilla. In September, the Italian pasta maker found itself in hot water after chairman Guido Barilla said he would never use a gay family in company ads because it was not “a classic family.” After widespread backlash in the media against the brand, however, Barilla announced it would launch a “more inclusive” TV ad campaign.

Barneys. The upscale retailer and Macy’s were both accused of racial profiling this autumn after young black men were detained due to suspicions of shoplifting, even though the customers had just made purchases in the stores. In the controversy’s aftermath, Jay Z said he would continue with a planned partnership with Barneys, though “with full power to recommend, review and revise policies and guidelines moving forward.”

(MORE: Check Out the Holiday Season’s Most Loathed Kids Gifts)

Colorado Hunting. After Colorado legislators passed tougher gun-control laws, Second Amendment defenders called this past spring for outdoorsmen to refuse to hunt in the state, with the hope that plummeting license registrations by out-of-state visitors would send a powerful message. By fall, however, it looked like the attempted boycott was a bust, with state hunting licenses up 5,000 compared to the same period in the previous year.

Cracker Barrel. The restaurant chain was one of several businesses that became involved in the ongoing “Duck Dynasty” controversy, which arose when one of the reality TV show’s stars, Phil Roberston, was accused of making racist and anti-gay comments and the A&E network suspended him from participation on the program indefinitely. Cracker Barrel first pulled Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores, but after an outpouring of support for Robertson–and threats of boycotts against Cracker Barrel–the chain quickly reversed its position and it is selling Duck Dynasty goods once again.

DiGiorno. After a video surfaced showing what appeared to be animal cruelty, the frozen pizza maker severed ties with the offending dairy farm.

e-cigarettes. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called out e-cigarette companies as being no better than Big Tobacco in its advertising strategies—especially those that, disturbingly, seem to be aimed at young people. Federal survey data indicates that e-cigarette usage among teens more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. When billboards featuring Santa Claus endorsing e-cigarettes began appearing by the roadside, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids again asked the FDA to regulate the industry and ensure that e-cigarettes would not be marketed to children.

Family Guy. Tens of thousands voiced protests of the Seth MacFarlane cartoon not because the show was offensive, but because the writers killed off the most likable character, family dog Brian. Within weeks, Brian was back on the show, thanks to a plot twist involving a Christmas wish and a time machine.

Fast Fashion. In April, the tragic collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed hundreds prompted advocacy groups to call for boycotts of retailers like Gap and Walmart unless they pushed for tougher safety regulations at the factories where their clothes are made. By November, a host of retailers in the U.S. and Europe agreed to stricter inspection standards to safeguard workers in Bangladesh.

(MORE: 2013 Was a Momentous Year for Buns)

Fast Food. A series of protests and series of flash strikes by workers at fast-food restaurants around the country gave labor activists a platform to demand employees earn hourly wages of at least $15, more than double the current federal minimum wage.

Fifty Shades of Grey (the movie). Fans of E.L. James’ kinky best-selling book voiced their disapproval of actors cast in the forthcoming “Grey” movie by signing online petitions and demanding a new cast. Producers did wind up changing the male lead, though apparently the decision was unrelated to fan pressure.

Fisher-Price. Based on the input of pediatricians and child development specialists, a parent’s group launched a petition to convince Fisher-Price to stop selling a baby bouncy seat featuring an iPad holder just above the infant’s face. (Experts recommend no screen time whatsoever for children under the age of 2.)

Florida. Amid the outrage and protests following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin, various online petitions and Facebook groups pushed for a boycott of Florida, where the trial took place, as well as a boycott of national brands and corporations based in the state, such as Hooter’s and Olive Garden.

Google. Earlier this month in San Francisco, protesters blocked Google’s private bus to call attention to income inequality in the city and gentrification caused by high-earning tech worker residents. A popular online petition, meanwhile, is aimed at getting Google to stop violating Gmail users’ privacy by going through their e-mail in order to sell ads. And at least one prominent tech expert recommended that people stop using Google (and Facebook and other online giants) when the NSA scandal broke, revealing that these tech firms had allowed the government to gather data on users in the hopes of detecting terrorist threats.

Groupon. In early 2013, a few weeks removed from the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the daily deal giant Groupon announced it was “bowing to customer pressure,” in the words of the Chicago Tribune, and would no longer sell any gun-related products or services. The owner of a gun shop in Texas followed by campaigning for a national boycott of Groupon by the gun community. In recent months, some gun-related Groupon offers have again been popping up, mainly discounted shooting range packages like this one in Philadelphia.

Halloween Costume Sellers. The costume police were out in full force this past October, attempting to shame retailers such as Walmart, Pottery Barn, and Rite Aid for selling Halloween costumes deemed to be ethnically insensitive (Japanese sushi chef, turban and beard), inappropriately sexy (toddler “Naughty Leopard” outfit), or otherwise offensive (mental patient).

(MORE: Apple’s Latest Holiday Ad Will tug at Your Heartstrings)

J.C. Penney. Upset parents vented their anger on J.C. Penney’s Facebook page concerning a back-to-school commercial that they say pressures kids to have just the right new clothes for the school year—and perhaps even promotes bullying.

Kmart. The conservative moms group One Million Moms was up in arms when a Kmart ad featuring Joe Boxer underwear went viral. “The commercial focuses on several men wearing Joe Boxer underwear thrusting in a sexualized way to the tune of Jingle Bells,” the group’s missive states. “They start gyrating and shaking themselves instead of the hand bells, intending to make their ‘bells’ ring in song — which is highly inappropriate.” Look for more outrage to spread if and when the new special holiday edition of Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” ad gets more attention.

Kraft. Earlier in the year, the moms launched a “Shame on Kraft” campaign because of the “Zesty Guy” ad for salad dressing printed in People. “A full 2-page ad features a n*ked man lying on a picnic blanket with only a small portion of the blanket barely covering his g*nitals,” the group explained (using carefully placed asterisks to circumvent certain spam filters). “Christians will not be able to buy Kraft dressings or any of their products until they clean up their advertising.”

Kroger, Macy’s. A progressive group in Texas called for a boycott of the two retailers after it was discovered that they urged Governor Rick Perry to veto the Texas Fair Pay Act, which would have strengthened women’s ability to sue employers based on wage discrimination.

(MORE: ‘Big Gas Savings’: Kmart’s Funny Followup to the Viral ‘Ship My Pants’ Ad)

Radio Shack. Toward the end of November, the American Family Association proposed a one-month consumer boycott of Radio Shack (during the key holiday period for retailers) because for years the electronics chain reportedly “has refused to use the word Christmas on its website, in television commercials, newspaper ads and in-store promotions, despite tens of thousands of consumer requests to recognize Christmas.”

Robin Thicke. The backlash over Thicke’s “rape-y” hit “Blurred Lines” included feminist video mocking the song that went viral and the tune being banned at 20 universities in the UK, as well as a lawsuit filed by Marvin Gaye’s heirs, who accused Thicke of copyright infringement.

Rolling Stone. CVS, Walgreens, Stop & Shop, Big Y, and Tedeschi Foods were among the retailers boycotting the August issue of Rolling Stone, which featured accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover.

Russian Vodka. Gay-rights activists encouraged a boycott of Stolichnaya and other Russian vodka brands as a response to anti-gay laws passed by the Russian government.

SeaWorld. After being pressured from animal rights groups highlighting the mistreatment of whales at SeaWorld as show in the documentary “Blackfish,” several bands, including Heart, Cheap Trick, Willie Nelson, and Barenaked Ladies cancelled concerts that had been scheduled at the theme park.

(MORE: The Case Against Wild, Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Sprees)

Starbucks. A gun-control group proposed a Skip Starbucks Saturday to take place on August 24, as a way to protest the coffee chain’s policy of allowing customers to carry loaded guns in states where this behavior is permitted by law. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz later posted an open letter online making “a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.” Meanwhile, Starbucks had been subject to a different consumer boycott due to the company’s support for same-sex marriage. When asked by shareholders in early 2013 whether the company’s stance was bad for business, Schultz suggested that anyone who disagreed with his position “can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company.” And on an unrelated matter, in October Starbucks asked customers to sign a petition demanding that the federal government shutdown be ended.

Thanksgiving Shopping. Supporters of retail workers and family time suggested boycotts, signed online petitions, and wrote columns asking (unsuccessfully) for stores like Walmart, Target, and Macy’s to call off plans to open doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day.