Apparently, Kellogg Company (NYSE:K) didn’t get the memo.
You would think some VP of communications somewhere would read my columns from time to time, so they could encourage senior management never to speak on any political topic, or even mention a political issue indirectly.
The reason is that it guarantees that 40% to 50% of the country will disagree with the issue or opinion under discussion, and boycott that company’s products. Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) angered many Americans by wading into the transgender bathroom fray on April 19. Despite the company’s assurances that a retaliatory boycott really really didn’t harm sales, how could Target actually determine whether the 1.4 million people who pledged to boycott the company did or didn’t follow through?
We do know the company reported declines in same-store sales in subsequent quarters, and TGT stock fell as much as 20% at one point.
The announcement from Kellogg came yesterday that it would stop advertising on the conservative media website Breitbart. Specifically, “We regularly work with our media buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company,” Kellogg spokesperson Kris Charles in a statement.
Of course, no specific examples were given. The inference, however, is clear. Kellogg has bought into the media’s false narrative that conservatives and Breitbart’s website consist of deplorables, haters, racists, sexists, White Nationalists, who also kick puppies and club baby seals.
Whatever your belief is doesn’t actually matter. Investing reality does. And the broader investing point is that Kellogg is being incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid.
Where Kellogg Went Oh So Wrong
Let’s start with the fact that by engaging in this foolish act, Kellogg immediately alienates up to half of its domestic consumers. Even more foolish is that Kellogg picked a fight with Breitbart.
You do not pick a fight with Breitbart.
Andrew Breitbart’s legacy is carried on by a very devoted staff and following. Breitbart’s tagline was “war!”, and that is exactly what Steve Bannon responded with when asked about Kellogg’s dumb move.
War comes in the form of a boycott. Maybe Kellogg should’ve read the TGT stock memo after all. The Twitter hashtag #DumpKelloggs is the No. 1 U.S. trend on Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) as I write. Breitbart — which has boasted a peak of 45 million readers — called for a boycott; of those, 75,000 have already signed the petition.
Now Kellogg has a crisis on its hands.
The conservative media and blogosphere fight back, turning what should have been a quiet decision (worded entirely differently) into a PR disaster. K stock is actually off 1% this morning. Why didn’t Kellogg just shut up, pull the advertising without giving a reason, or at least reduce it over time so it didn’t look like it was political?
Because Kellogg has a stupid in-house communications staff.
Did Kellogg think that it wouldn’t get slammed? Did Kellogg think that whatever business it might lose from conservatives would somehow be shifted into increased volume from the Left? How foolish would that be? Democrats aren’t going to buy double boxes of Frosted Flakes as a result.
The foolish factor is compounded because Kellogg has been struggling for some time.
Yes, Kellogg has been rising steadily for years, though momentum is decidedly headed in the wrong direction after the company peaked near $86 in the middle of this year. K stock currently trades at $72.
What’s more problematic is Kellogg’s operational picture.
Net sales have fallen more than 9% from FY13 through FY16, and are on track to fall another 3.3% this year — returning sales all the way back to FY11 levels. Gross margins have been destroyed, falling more than 700 basis points since FY13.
Operating profit is 30% below FY11’s levels, and net income in FY15 was almost 30% below FY11 levels.
Maybe it’s because Kellogg’s “values” align closely with the rising obesity rate in America, selling famous brands of food that offer the nutritional value of Soviet gruel.
Seriously, did Kellogg forget that there’s been a health food craze going on for the last 15 years? And they thought the best way to boost consumption in their product was to take on arguably the most powerful conservative media brand in the country?
Let me say it again: Companies need to shut up about politics!
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
Lawrence Meyers is the CEO of PDL Capital, and manager of the forthcoming Liberty Portfolio stock newsletter. He has previously written for Breitbart. He has 22 years’ experience in the stock market, and has written more than 1,600 articles on investing. As of this writing, he has no position in any stock mentioned. Lawrence Meyers can be reached at [email protected].