From car rental companies to an insurance giant and a major bank, corporate America is severing its relationship with the National Rifle Association in the face of torrents of criticism from their customers on social media.
The backlash began on Thursday after First National Bank of Omaha, which issued an NRA-branded Visa credit card, said in a statement it had “decided to not renew our contract with the NRA to issue the NRA Visa card.”
Shortly afterwards, more companies announced they would end their NRA membership discount programs.
The groundswell comes amid calls for tighter gun control following the shooting at a high school in Florida last week that claimed the lives of 17 people. Those calls have been rejected by the NRA gun lobbyist group, which instead has pointed the finger at school security, the mental health system, and the FBI.
A spokesman for Visa said in a statement, “FNBO has informed us of its intention not to renew the NRA co-branded card program when its agreement with the NRA expires. We will support the issuer’s efforts to wind down the portfolio smoothly.”
A marketing website for the card was offline as of Friday. But a cached version of it said customers would “DEFEND FREEDOM with the NRA Visa Card” by helping fund NRA programs. The ad said it gave members $35 after their first transaction, “enough to reimburse your one-year NRA membership!”
A screenshot of the now-ended NRA Visa card owned by First National Bank of Omaha.
Survivors of the Parkland shooting and accounts identifying themselves as customers took to social media to demand the companies end their programs.
Thank you @LifeLock https://t.co/UGmdGNNMcm
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) February 23, 2018
David Hogg, a survivor of the massacre, tweeted his gratitude to companies who announced they were ending their partnerships, and in a series of individual tweets targeted at the remaining companies, Hogg asked them to follow suit.
Other companies facing the backlash included car rental groups Enterprise, Hertz, Avis and Budget, Hinsurance giant MetLife, software firm Symantec, and Boston-based home security company SimpliSafe.
NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway said the companies are making a smart business move to protect their brand.
“The most valuable person in world of consumer business is an 18 year old. They have influence over what rest of us believe is ” cool” and have a lifetime of discretionary spend ahead of them,” Galloway told NBC News. “Their recent galvanization against the issue has made the NRA very uncool and an easy target for firms wanting to say to the most important cohort “‘hey, we get it, and are with you.'”
But Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, said that the firms are walking a thin line.
“This is a bold move,” said Schulz in an email, “but also a risky one because passions burn so hot on both sides of the topic of guns. Many will applaud the move, but NRA members are famously loyal and the organization has shown itself as being very good at mobilizing its members, so there’s a real possibility of a significant backlash.”
Amid the genuine customer and user outrage, it appeared that Russian trolls might be taking part in the campaign as well. Accounts with suspicious profiles that matched signs flagged by researchers as being likely trolls or bots tweeted about and directly at the individual companies. Some of the accounts taking aggressive stances also used hashtags flagged by Hamilton 68, which tracks activity by known Kremlin-linked accounts, and showed signs of automated behavior.
Suspicious accounts also jumped into the social media debate in the immediate aftermath of the shooting to stoke divides on both sides of the gun control debate and spread hoaxes.