True or false: If you're angry about a company's political position, the most effective protest is to buy one of their expensive products, and then make a video blowing it up on Youtube.
That's what some angry customers are doing, now that they're convinced that Yeti, a highly successful Texas company that makes super-expensive coolers and other gear, has cut its ties with the NRA Foundation. (Yeti says that's not correct.)
Below, we'll go through the background and the dispute--and of course show you the videos and the reaction--and finally, show you the competing statements between Yeti and the NRA.
Two brothers and an almost $5 billion company.
Yeti was founded by brothers Ryan and Roy Seiders in 2005, and as my Inc. colleague Bill Saporito explained in a feature two years ago, their company took off, growing from $5 million in sales in 2009 to $450 million in 2015. Last year, they were ready to go public--seeking a $5 billion valuation--but pulled back at the last minute.
Their super-expensive ice chests, stainless steel mugs and other products--the price tag on their coolers runs from $300 to as much as $1,300--were immensely popular with what were called "the hook and bullet crowd," meaning anglers and hunters. More than just a product, they were a cultural phenomenon, even getting a prominent mention in Chris Janson's No. 1 country song, "Buy Me a Boat."
Maybe money can't buy happiness, Janson sang, but "it can buy me a Yeti 110 iced down with some Silver Bullets."
Nobody's writing songs about Yeti anymore. Last week, the former president of the NRA, Marion P. Hammer, sent a letter to NRA members saying Yeti had "declined to do business with The NRA Foundation," which is the 501(c)(3) associated with the NRA, and "refused to say why."
Hammer continued: "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."
The protests and the videos.
The response was swift--so swift that Yeti, which denies it had cut ties with the NRA and blamed the whole thing on a misunderstanding seemed completely caught off-guard. (Rather than try to sort out who is right, I'll simply include the original NRA statement, Yeti's official reply, and the NRA's reply to Yeti at the end of this article.)
Taking to Youtube and Facebook, soon-to-be former customers filmed videos in which they destroyed Yeti coolers as a statement. For example, in one video, two women filled a Yeti cooler with Tannerite explosive, and then shot it with a rifle.
Another customer decided to put a $25 Yeti steel tumbler in a vise.
This man forgot he owned a Yeti mug, but when he found it, he shot it up.
Separately: Bryan Atkinson of Hartsville, S.C. said in a Facebook live video with about 185,000 views as of this writing, "If Yeti can't stand behind the NRA, I ain't standing behind Yeti no more."
Atkinson filled his cooler with explosives and shot it in a field. His video also seems to have attracted the attention of the local police--not for being illegal, but for destroying a cooler they would have liked to have.
Dueling fire from the NRA and Yeti.
Yeti is adamant that they didn't mean to diss the NRA, and that they proudly support the Second Amendment. The NRA isn't buying it at all. You can decide which organization you believe.
I'll also leave it to you whether blowing up $1,000 coolers and the like is an effective protest. Even among people who support the NRA and think Yeti is in the wrong, based on the comments, pretty close to half or more think it's a bit crazy to blow up your own expensive product, having already given the company the money for it.
Regardless, it seems Yeti is learning the downside of building a company with such passionate followers: What happens if that passion turns on you?
Here's the original NRA letter, Yeti's reply, and the NRA's response to Yeti's reply:
The original letter (full text here):
"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. They have declined to continue helping America's young people enjoy outdoor recreational activities. These activities enable them to appreciate America and enjoy our natural resources with wholesome and healthy outdoor recreational and educational programs."
"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 about 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) distributed on April 20."
The second NRA statement:
The NRA issued a second letter, which you can read here. Also, Hammer, the former NRA president, sent me an "additional comment" as she put it, when I asked the NRA for comment:
"Yeti severed ties with the NRA and is now engaging in damage control after a backlash from many of its customers. In early March, Yeti refused to place a previously negotiated order from NRA-ILA, citing 'recent events' as the reason-- a clear reference to the tragedy in Parkland, Florida. Yeti then delivered notice to The NRA Foundation that it was terminating a seven-year agreement and demanded that the NRA remove the Yeti name and logo from all NRA digital assets, as well as refrain from using any Yeti trademarks in future print material.
"While Yeti is trying to spin the story otherwise, those are the facts. While Yeti can choose to run from the NRA, they can't run from the facts. Whether this is due to the recent cancellation of the IPO from their NYC owners is a question only they can answer."