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Shame on labor protesters for not being more clever

(Facebook / Subaru of Wichita)

(Facebook / Subaru of Wichita)

Few people think positively of car dealerships. They’re not exactly known for being beacons of morality. So, protesting one with allegedly poor labor practices would seem like a guaranteed PR win.

Well, that wasn’t exactly how it went down for Wichita’s United Brotherhood Of Carpenters And Joiners Of America Local 201 this week. They showed up at Subaru of Wichita, set up their protest sign and waited for a response from the dealership. But the one they got was not what they had expected. Playing off the union’s “Shame on Subaru of Wichita” sign, the dealership unfurled one of its own that read: “For having unbeatable prices.”

The incident has been an advertising boon for Subaru of Wichita, with the photo receiving hundreds of shares on Facebook. And since the union’s only response to local media has been to show its union flier with a drawing of a rat that appears to be eating an American flag, Subaru is getting all the glory.

Not only has the dealership come off as the more clever party, but it also appears to have taken the higher road, insisting that it supports the union’s right to protest and that it hasn’t engaged in any unfair labor practices (of course, the issue itself has been buried at this point). Furthermore, the dealership even offered to buy the protesters lunch, but they refused. Subaru spokesperson Aaron Wirtz says he’s convinced they were simply hired by the union to stand there, which is not an uncommon practice.

Overall, the union and its tactics just look pathetic. You know it’s bad when the media are telling you how to do protests. As Yahoo’s Motoramic blog noted, “Should the union choose to push things further, it would be wise to remember that signs are the simplest tool in an auto dealer’s bag of tricks; giant rats have a hard time stacking up against rooftop inflatable gorillas.”

It’s clear from this incident that protesters need to not only learn how to anticipate their opponents’ responses, but also come up with tactics and messaging that are more clever. Advertising is becoming better and better at being unpredictable and co-opting things like art, humor and social resistance. Take the recent viral video for the clothing company Wren that featured 10 pairs of strangers kissing for the first time or the not-so-subtly political ads for Manhattan Mini Storage.

Since the other side is getting so much more creative, don’t activists have an imperative to stay ahead of the curve?