Within hours of announcing its decision to end a credit card relationship with the National Rifle Association, the First National Bank of Omaha found itself thrust into the center of the resurgent national gun debate.
Its Twitter and Facebook pages were flooded with comments. Some customers applauded the 160-year-old bank’s decision. Others said they would take their business elsewhere.
In the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Florida last week, businesses were making the same financial and moral calculus, quickly discovering that there is no neutral ground. As pressure mounted across various social media platforms on Friday, a number of corporations, including several car-rental companies, MetLife insurance and Symantic security software, abruptly announced plans to cut ties with the organization.
Over the last couple of years, social media has become the preferred vehicle for the rise of consumer activism, turning the everyday purchase of dresses or shoes or, now, renting a car or buying insurance, into a form of protest or demonstration of ideology.
“MetLife didn’t shoot anyone, but I just can’t pay them,” Clark Bacon, a research assistant at a children’s hospital, said in an interview Friday morning, after posting about his frustration on the company’s Facebook page. He had pledged to cancel his MetLife auto and home insurance package, for which he spends nearly $9,000 a year, after learning that the company offered N.R.A. members pre-negotiated discounts.
For companies like MetLife that are caught in the middle of these angry social media storms, actions tied to divisive social issues can be a lose-lose proposition. A year ago, Nordstrom first faced calls for a consumer boycott because it carried the Ivanka Trump line of clothing. But it quickly drew another round of boycott cries from the other side of the ideological spectrum when it quietly stopped selling her products.
Marketing experts say it’s difficult to determine whether calls for boycotts can truly have an impact on a company’s business. Rather, they say, once-angry customers either forget or move on to the next event or debate.
“Memories fade. The intensity of the feelings that people have on this subject right now will feel different one month or five months from now,” said Maurice Schweitzer, a professor of operations, information and decisions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
In the aftermath of nearly all of the mass shootings in the United States, there has almost always been attempts to pressure lawmakers and companies that manufacture or sell guns to change. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, both the California’s state pension fund and the California teachers pension fund divested their stakes in gun manufacturers.
And after a gunman used an accessory called a bump stock in a mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, two retailers, Walmart and the outdoors store Cabela’s, removed the products from their websites.
But in the days since the Florida school shooting, the push for boycotts and meaningful change has mobilized faster than with previous mass shootings. Professor Schweitzer noted that reflected the fact that the survivors are teenagers who are well versed in the usage and power of social media.
On Twitter, the hashtag #stopNRAmazon was a rallying cry aimed at pressuring Amazon to stop streaming content from NRATV, the gun group’s online video channel. The effort quickly drew support from Hollywood as actors like Alyssa Milano, Denis O’Hare, Evan Handler and Misha Collins posted on social media in support of the campaign; several noted that Amazon prohibits the sale of firearms on its e-commerce site.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Leading retailers including Cabela’s, Walmart and Bass Pro Shops also came under renewed boycott calls on Twitter for selling guns or sponsoring N.R.A. events. The retailers did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Still, in some cases, the rapid assembly on Twitter and Facebook may have resulted in a speedy response. In less than 24 hours, at least eight companies that had offered N.R.A. members discounts or special deals announced plans to separate or end affiliations with the organization, including Hertz, Enterprise and Avis Budget; SimpliSafe, which gave N.R.A. members two months of free home security monitoring; and North American and Allied Van Lines.
“North American and Allied Van Lines no longer have an affiliate relationship with the NRA effective immediately,’’ the company said in an emailed statement. “We have asked them to remove our listing from their benefits site.”
Even companies that do not have ties to the N.R.A. nevertheless rushed to distance themselves from the group. Wyndham Hotels said in a statement that it ended its relationship with the trade group in late 2017. Best Western Hotels & Resorts tweeted to dozens of customers that it “does not have an affiliation with and is not a corporate partner” of the N.R.A.
Earlier this week, lists of companies that were part of the N.R.A. membership program began circulating over Facebook and Twitter. A Change.org petition asked 25 companies, including North American Van Lines and the hearing aid company Starkey Hearing Technologies, and to break their connection with the N.R.A. The petition, which was initiated by a user in Brooklyn, had more than 1,100 signatures by midday Friday.
With lists of companies circulating widely, Facebook users swarmed the profiles of Avis, MetLife and others, announcing their plans to end their patronage and switch to competitors.
Rob Bradford, a designer who travels frequently, said Friday morning he would take the $600 he spends each year renting vehicles from Avis to competing rental companies if Avis did not disavow the N.R.A.
“I know that boycotts work, especially in the age of social media,” he said. “I will go out of my way to avoid businesses associated with that group even if that means spending more money.”
By Friday afternoon, Avis Budget Group, which owns car-rental companies Avis and Budget, said it had decided to end its discount partnership with the N.R.A., effective on March 26, according to a spokesperson.
Late Thursday, the First National Bank of Omaha, which calls itself the largest privately owned bank holding company in the country, said that it would not renew its contract with the trade group to issue an N.R.A.-branded credit card.
The card had been advertised as “the official credit card of the N.R.A.,” and cardholders were offered a $40 credit with their first purchase.
But the move drew strong, even extreme, reaction on the bank’s Facebook page.
“You are doing the right thing by dropping the NRA,” one user wrote. “They are a hate group with blood on their hands. Thank you for walking away from them.”
But the opposing viewpoint was evident as well. “I discontinued my account with you last night for discontinuing the relationship with the NRA,” another user wrote. “I will encourage all NRA members and gun supporters to do the same. There are 100 million gun owners and 5 million NRA members. Good luck.”