May 31, 2023 - Economy

"Anti-woke" movement finds itself an investment vehicle

Illustration of a Gadsden flag with the snake wrapped around a blank check.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Want to invest in the right-wing blowback to corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts? There's a SPAC for that.

Driving the news: It's called Colombier Acquisition Corp., and earlier this year agreed to merge with PublicSq, an online marketplace for companies in what it calls "the patriot economy."

  • If the deal closes, the combined company's board will include failed U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and former Mike Pence strategist Nick Ayers.

Why it matters: This comes at a moment when anti-LGBTQ activists have helped tank stock prices for companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev and Target.

  • PublicSq, which includes a section titled "Ditch Target 2.0," claims a 30% month-over-month user growth rate (now over 700k) and a 19% month-over-month business growth rate (over 50k) over the past year.
  • Last week it briefly rose to No. 4 in Apple's App Store, ahead of Amazon and Walmart, although by yesterday it had fallen back to No. 60.
  • "Any time Target pulls a Target, it's kind of a reminder for our consumers of, 'Hey, there's maybe some other options out there that we should pursue,'" PublicSq CEO Michael Seifert tells Axios.
  • Many of PublicSq's merchants appear to be apolitical, focusing instead on "American-made products," although there also are plenty of offerings like a "pro-life coffee brand."
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: There's nothing new about social or political movements seeking to leverage the power of consumer checkbooks. In recent history, however, it's more commonly come from the other side of the political spectrum.

  • One other big difference is the role of SPACs, otherwise known as blank-check acquisition companies.
  • Seifert acknowledges that the overall SPAC market has been a pit of despair, but believes that the relative success of Rumble — a right-leaning alternative to YouTube — shows that SPACs can have niche value for niche companies like his.
  • Specifically, Rumble had far fewer pre-merger redemptions than most "deSPAC" transactions, and has managed to keep its share price near the $10 par mark. Colombier hasn't gone through the redemption process yet, but has remained above $10 since announcing its PublicSq deal.

The bottom line: It remains unclear if this "anti-woke" movement will really drive consumer behavior, or if it's more limited to social media and stocks.

  • Disney's top and bottom lines, for example, appear unaffected by the company's Florida fight, and it's tough to believe that people will stop eating Chick-fil-A sandwiches (yes, that Chick-fil-A) because the company named a vice president of DEI.
  • Once its SPAC merger goes through, however, PublicSq will begin disclosing financials that could give better insights into how much of the bark is bite.
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