The decision by corporate leaders to take a political stand over a controversial issue is therefore of great interest. Corporations and business leaders almost always avoid political statements and announcements, recognizing that such declarations have the effect of unnecessarily alienating potential customers. Corporations live in constant fear of bad publicity that can ruin a brand carefully erected through millions of dollars of advertising and publicity. Why step into a heated political debate and unnecessarily turn half of your customers away? Corporations exist to make money, not to advance political and social causes—except for those that help them make money, of course.
And that’s just the point: The decision by Apple, Walmart, Eli Lilly, Angie’s List, and so on was a business decision—even more, a marketing decision. Coming out in opposition to the Indiana RFRA law was one of the shrewdest marketing coups since E.T. followed a trail of Reese’s Pieces. The decision to #BoycottIndiana was not made because it was the politically courageous thing to do; it was made because it was the profitable thing to do. The establishment could express support for a fashionable social norm while exerting very little effort, incurring no actual cost, and making no sacrifice to secure the goal. It had the further advantage of distracting most people from the fact that corporations like Apple have no compunction doing business in places with outright oppression of gays, women, and Christians. Those real forms of repression and discrimination didn’t matter; Indiana’s purported oppression of gays did.