Labeled A-Hole Foods by some, an army of bloggers have taken to full battle gear ever since John Mackey's op-ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 12, 2009. Triggering significant backlash, Whole Foods may have a hard time overcoming a social media nightmare spurred on by their leader.
John Mackey's editorial quoted Margaret Thatcher in his WSJ online piece as follows:
He went on to denounce healthcare reform as an extension of Medicare and Social Security, two government programs he labeled as forms of socialism.
- "With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people's money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.
- "While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system."
From that point forward, Mackey has been a major target by boycott groups emanating from the four major social networks.
A blog titled 'Boycott Whole Foods' was established on August 18, and a group formed on Facebook under the same name attracting 31,048 members to date (as of the time of this posting).
Twitter's "WholeBoycott" has 602 followers and its profile bio reads: " Let Whole Foods know your money will no longer support its anti-health reform CEO!"
As noted in the top tweet on the screen above, a downloadable flyer is available for protesters to circulate in their local neighborhoods and at store locations. (I am assuming the "666" on the flyer is comparing Mackey to the devil.)
A tagline to the flyer requests that "if you support healthcare reform and honest discussion rooted in facts over myths and propaganda, send Mackey a message and JOIN THE BOYCOTT. The voice of the people must be heard above the for profit interests of the health insurance companies."
On August 19, another boycott protest group formed on Flickr asking members to share photos and videos.
In support of single-payer health care and a public option, the Single Payer Action group and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union picketed the P Street Whole Foods in Washington, DC and posted the following YouTube video.
Whether or not you are pro or con on this issue, John Mackey's position on healthcare reform goes beyond being a tug-of war between opposing factions. The repercussions of his editorial saw Whole Foods take a bonafide and quantifiable hit with these four social networks that damaged the brand critically..
On August 25, a Mashable article noted that a YouGov BrandIndex which tracks the daily consumer perception of brands and consumer opinion saw Whole Foods' numbers declining. A "buzz chart" indicates how customer buzz perception increases or decreases over time, and within 8 days from Mackey's editorial posting, Whole Food's buzz score dropped significantly from 22.8 to 13.6, a 9.2 point decline.
Ironically, while Mackey views of healthcare reform were chastised by those in social media, the White House and the administration on the other hand use all the tools of social networking daily to sell healthcare reform to the American public (see my previous blog on this topic.)
Since Mackey's main objection to healthcare reform is based on his belief in a free market system where customers vote with their money, he should not be surprised that those same customers are also free to take their business elsewhere if they are displeased with the opinions of the company's leader. Hanging his belief system on Margaret Thatcher's quote might be a harbinger or omen of things to come. Perhaps if this boycott continues to gain steam, Whole Foods and not the Federal Government will be the "one to run out of money!" And if so, this social media dilemma might just turn into a shareholder's nightmare!