Once, when I was a kid, I was in the grocery store with my mother and we were picking out jelly. I picked out a jar of Welch's grape jelly and she told me to put it back and replace it with a jar of the store brand. Now, you have to understand that this was long enough ago that generic brands weren't just less expensive, they were lower in quality and I was just a tad unhappy that we'd have to suffer through weeks of PBJs with inferior jelly. I asked Mom why we couldn't get the (superior) Welch's and she said she couldn't support a company that treated its workers the way Welch's did. Of course I hadn't a clue what she was talking about, but I couldn't believe I was going to have to suffer through crappy jelly because some company apparently was mean to its people.
After thinking the situation through I had a thought and said to Mom, "Welch's must sell a ton of their jelly and make a lot of money, they aren't going to even notice if we don't buy a jar. It just doesn't seem worth the all the effort to me." I'll never forget her reply: "Jon, I'm sure they won't notice, but I'm also sure I'll feel better every time I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if I'm not making it with their jelly." How do you argue with that?
That's a story I think about every time I see one of these "product protests", the latest of which is the so-called boycott of Chick-Fil-A being called for by folks who are incensed by the company president's statement against same-sex marriage. Whether or not the boycott causes Chick-Fil-A financial distress (I doubt it will since there's now a counter-boycott being staged by conservative Christian organizations), at a minimum the people doing the boycotting can feel better about where they're jacking up their cholestorol.
For what it's worth people really shouldn't have a problem with Chick-Fil-A taking a financial hit for their conservative stance, mainly because they've made a ton of money from broadcasting their conservative Christian values. There are a LOT of people who frequent the chain not just because they like its chicken – they also feel good being able to support a business that reflects their own values. This is definitely one of those "live by the sword-die by they sword" situations.
As for me the boycott is a non-issue since I'm probably the only person south of Boston who thinks Chick-Fil-A is overrated, and they might have the worst coffee on the planet. Bland chicken and crappy coffee equals a permanent boycott that has nothing to do with the company's politics, but for the record if I did like Chick-Fil-A I'd be taking a break from visiting their restaurants. They wouldn't notice, but I'd feel a lot better about my jacked-up cholestorol.
Update: The "Support Chick-Fil-A" counter-protest today was quite popular in towns around NC and apparently a North Carolina based Wendy's franchisee showed support for its competitor as well. Although it's the kind of thing that the local news has to carry, is it really a surprise to anyone? After all this is a state that recently passed, overwhelmingly, a state amendment against gay marriage. It's also firmly esconced in the Bible belt, clerks routinely wish you a "blessed" day and the first question you're asked upon introduction isn't "What do you do?" but "Where do you go to church?"
All in all I'd say this is totally predictable – what would be more interesting to know is the net effect on Chick-Fil-A's business around the country. It'll probably make a good case study for the Harvard Business Review in the near future.