The National Rifle Association is calling a cease-fire to its supporters who have been blasting (in some cases, literally) Yeti coolers over what may be a miscommunication between the gun rights group and the Austin-based manufacturer of high-end coolers. The NRA leadership is asking its supporters to affix a sticker on Yeti coolers expressing support for the NRA instead of destroying or throwing out Yeti products.
The detente being sought by the NRA may culminate one of the stranger consumer battles involving the controversial gun lobby.
In the wake of the shooting that took the lives of seventeen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February, numerous companies have decided to cut merchandizing and discounting ties to the National Rifle Association: among them, Delta and United airlines; Avis and Budget rental cars; and cybersecurity company Symantec.
Dick’s Sporting Goods had ceased selling military-style rifles several years ago, but after the Florida shooting it announced that its subsidiary Field & Stream not only would stop selling the firearms but would destroy its inventory. Chairman Ed Stack wrote an open letter declaring solidarity with the students protesting against arms sales.
We have heard you. The nation has heard you. We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens. But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America—our kids.
The National Rifle Association was critical of Dick’s but did not sling public relations nukes at the sporting goods chain.
.@DICKS decision isn’t focusing on the actual problem, what it is doing is punishing law-abiding citizens. What a waste, and what a strange business model. #DefendTheSecond #2A #NRA https://t.co/mUNmV6O1ot
— NRA (@NRA) April 17, 2018
While the NRA was critical of Dick’s and Delta, nothing compared to the backlash that occurred against Austin-based Yeti, the manufacturer of high-end coolers. On April 20, former NRA president Marion P. Hammer issued a statement complaining that Yeti is now declining to do business with the NRA. “For years YETI Coolers have been a hot item for sportsmen at the Friends of NRA Foundation Banquet and Auction events around the country,” Hammer wrote. “Suddenly, without prior notice, YETI has declined to do business with The NRA Foundation saying they no longer wish to be an NRA vendor, and refused to say why. They will only say they will no longer sell products to The NRA Foundation. That certainly isn’t sportsmanlike. In fact, YETI should be ashamed.”
Yeti responded with a statement saying that was just not true.
“A few weeks ago, YETI® notified the NRA Foundation, as well as a number of other organizations, that we were eliminating a group of outdated discounting programs. When we notified the NRA Foundation and the other organizations of this change, YETI explained that we were offering them an alternative customization program broadly available to consumers and organizations, including the NRA Foundation. These facts directly contradict the inaccurate statement the NRA-ILA distributed on April 20.”
The Hammer dropped again on April 24. “If it wasn’t bad enough that YETI dropped The NRA Foundation as a client, now they’re calling us liars because we informed our members and friends of their actions,” Hammer said in a new statement. “YETI’s attempts at damage control is to say our statement is not accurate. Shame on you again YETI. You know you made a mistake. A big one. Now you must live with your mistake.”
In the midst of this, some North Carolinians decided to launch their own version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, only this one was a protest of Yeti that involved filling a cooler with explosive Tannerite and shooting it with a high-powered rifle.
That prompted others across the country to blow up their own Yeti coolers, some of which cost upwards of $500.
What the heck? Some of us were beginning to wonder whether Yeti was about to get Dixie Chicked. You may recall in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines said the band was “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. A boycott by country music fans caused an immediate drop in sales of their music, and in one stunt opponents crushed some of the Chicks’ CDs with a bulldozer. However, country singer Merle Haggard defended them, likening the backlash to a “lynching.”
Boom! There went another cooler on YouTube.
So I asked University of Texas business professor Timothy Werner why Yeti and not Delta. “It’s an outdoor equipment company even if it is just coolers, but typically associated with people who go out on outdoor adventures. So the alignment between that and, say, hunting for sport, etc., that you would associate with your kind of typical NRA member is a lot closer than, say, something like the alignment between the NRA and Delta.”
But is Yeti the new Dixie Chicks?
“The difference is, you know, the Dixie Chicks’ career never really recovered. I think that in this situation, with Yeti it is much more fleeting and won’t do any real long-term damage to the brand,” Werner said.
And perhaps even the NRA decided the war on Yeti had gone too far. This week, the pro-firearm lobby issued a cease-fire to its supporters. The Hammer came down with an alternative to Tannerite. “Don’t blow up your Yeti cooler. Don’t shoot your Yeti cooler full of holes. Don’t chain your Yeti cooler to the back of your pick-up truck and drag it down the highway. Don’t glue a toilet seat to Yeti cooler. Don’t hang your Yeti cooler in a tree and beat it with a baseball bat,” Hammer wrote in an email. “Put a big ‘I STAND WITH THE NRA FOUNDATION’ sticker on your YETI cooler and keep using it. They cost too much money to destroy to make a statement. Let a sticker make your statement.”