author of Honorable Influence - founder of Mindful Marketing
Images of war in Ukraine, including bombed buildings, fractured families, and bloodied bodies have made us realize that our daily worries are ‘kid concerns’ compared to the existential threats Ukrainians face. Paying more to fill our cars' gas tanks is nothing next to the calamities those in Ukraine are enduring.
Businesses, however, have a much wider range of concerns than individuals do. Unlike you and me, they need to navigate the complexities of supplying products, making payroll, and paying dividends. For the world's largest organizations, customers, employees, and shareholders number in the millions.
Despite these very real stakeholder obligations, a growing list of 300+ multinational corporations have decided to cease operations in/with Russia. Among the notable are Apple, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Disney, Exxon, FedEx, Goldman Sachs, Ikea, KPMG, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Netflix, Nike, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Shell, Starbucks, Toyota, UPS, Visa, and Volkswagen.
It’s no small thing to curtail commerce with Russia. With a population of 145.9 billion, it’s the ninth most populous nation in the world. For instance, 4.5% of McDonald’s 2021 revenue, and 4% of Pepsi’s, came from Russia. Those percentages may seem small, but for companies with sales of $23.3 billion and $79.4 billion, respectively, those are hits of over $1 billion and $3 billion for each firm.
Although, it’s become increasingly popular to spurn Russia, is it fiscally prudent and morally right for companies to do so, given their multifaceted stakeholder obligations, not to mention the notion that withholding Big Macs and Pepsi is unlikely to deter Vladimir Putin from his geopolitical goals. Some may even argue that with so many competitors closing shop in Russia, it’s a good time to gain market share.
So, why should McDonald’s, Pepsi, or any of the other 300+ economic objectors bother to boycott Russia?
It’s because, even though many of these corporations have revenues that exceed the GDPs of entire nations, the current crisis is bigger than any company. These companies’ self-interests are certainly real, but they’re ‘kid concerns’ compared to what’s happening in the world now and where it could lead.
It’s hard to imagine how any individual or organizational benefits could outweigh the death and destruction Russia is enacting on Ukraine. What’s more, it’s possible that this unprovoked infringement on one nation’s sovereignty may only be the beginning.
Given Putin's past comments, it’s possible that other former Soviet republics are on deck for annexation. There’s also speculation that China is carefully weighing other nations’ responses to the war in order to assess its potential for taking Taiwan.
Many believe that Ukraine’s fight for freedom foreshadows a much bigger battle for democracy. Given the gravity and plausibility of that prediction, it’s difficult to understand how a company could put limited and likely short-term losses ahead of civil liberties and self-determination for potentially billions of people, for possibly centuries to come.
Yet, some companies still aren’t taking a stand against Russia’s aggression. As of this writing, “companies that remain in Russia with significant exposure” include: Bridgestone Tire, Cargill, Caterpillar, Citi, Deere, Hilton, Hyatt, Kimberly Clark, Marriott, Mondelez, and Whirlpool.
Perhaps some of these organizations are still planning to act, they just need more time to execute their exits. Hopefully, none are thinking that their absence in Russia won’t make a difference, as it most certainly will.
Because of tightly controlled media, the Russian people can’t see the devastation their country is inflicting on its neighbor. What they will notice, though, are unavailable products, closed stores, and lost jobs, as well as a ransacked ruble.
Although unfortunate, that sudden economic distress will cause Russians to question what’s happening and why. Eventually, the truth will spread beyond the thousands who already know the ugly reality and have courageously protested the incursion.
As abhorrent as the currently conflict is, hopefully a positive outcome will be a new recognition of companies’ collective abilities to stand down aggression and precipitate peace. There are times when the most helpful thing marketers can do is not market.
We all have legitimate responsibilities to ourselves and others. We all also must recognize when larger societal concerns should supersede those smaller self-interests. Such self-awareness is a prerequisite for “Mindful Marketing.”