For the past four years, most American companies have tried to avoid the appearance of bias while distancing themselves from the inflammatory rhetoric of former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters in order to keep customers and employees happy.
It was a different story for MyPillow. Mike Lindell, the company’s founder and CEO, has remained one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters. His ongoing marketing of debunked conspiracy theories about election fraud banned him from Twitter Monday night. With retailers like Kohls and other large companies severing ties with the private manufacturer, Mr. Lindell has managed to make his pillows partisan.
“It’s about my money, you know where my money is going,” Lindell said in an interview earlier this month with a pro-Trump online channel called Right Side Broadcasting Network, which offers viewers a discount code to use on the MyPillow Website offers.
Mr. Lindell’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud have sparked a backlash against MyPillow in recent weeks. Several retailers have decided to no longer sell the products. This is an example of how much his personality dominates the public perception of his company.
Mr. Lindell, a former crack cocaine and gambling addict, started the company after he remembered the idea for MyPillow in a dream in 2004. He is now a devout Christian and credits God for assisting in his recovery.
MyPillow is based in Chaska, Minnesota, and Mr. Lindell said in an interview this week that it employs nearly 2,500 people. Its products – there are more than 100 in stock – have been widely used in national chains, and Mr. Lindell’s face is featured prominently in infomercials and boxes with his patented pillows. Two former MyPillow employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, were asked to display several cardboard clippings of the executive in stores and play his commercials.
Politics has become a bigger part of Mr. Lindell and MyPillow’s identities over the past decade after the success of the infomercials, which first aired in 2011 and later featured on Fox News. This emerges from the memoirs and interviews with former employees.
The company has stated in court records that it spends an average of $ 5 million per month on advertising. While Mr Lindell said he was advertising in the New York Times and CNN, much of his spending on Fox News – 59 percent of the company’s total television spending last year, according to MediaRadar – was what his profile was on the former President, an avid viewer of the network.
“Politics doesn’t harm your business,” he said in an interview this week. “I haven’t alienated anyone but the bots and trolls and the media’s hit jobs.”
MyPillow had sales of over $ 300 million in 2019, according to Lindell. MyPillow sells through its website and is carried by retail giants like Walmart, Amazon, and Costco.
According to Aaron Morgan, a procurement planner at MyPillow between September 2019 and March last year, the company is tightly knit and its leadership conservative. Mr. Lindell employs many members of his own family and even has a sister of former Vice President Mike Pence.
“Most companies say they don’t talk about politics,” Morgan said, noting that Mr. Lindell was pleasant. “But a lot of people there talked about politics. The people there obviously leaned towards Mike’s beliefs because they were all family members. It wasn’t unusual to see MAGA hats on desks. “
Mr Morgan shared photos of playing cards Mr Lindell offered to employees last year with a king card to display Mr Trump as a substitute for Julius Caesar, Hillary Clinton in an orange prison overalls on a queen card, and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer as a joker. Mr Lindell, whose likeness was also on the deck, said the cards were given to him as gifts and kept in his office and that the staff could take them if they wanted.
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Mr. Lindell’s politics entered his company in a different way. On January 6, the day of the Capitol uprising, the MyPillow website accepted a “FightForTrump” discount code promoted by a conservative radio host on his show. Mr Lindell, who retweeted the discount code that day, claimed without evidence that Twitter employees had access to his account and retweeted the post on his behalf.
“We have reviewed the rule violations and the resulting enforcement actions and found no evidence to support Mr. Lindell’s claims,” said a representative from Twitter.
The Washington violence sparked a social media campaign against MyPillow and Mr. Lindell, led by the Sleeping Giants group, which was founded in 2016 to prevent companies from advertising on Breitbart News. The pressure caused retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohls, H-E-B, Today’s Shopping Choice in Canada and Wayfair to drop MyPillow products, according to Lindell, who said without evidence that the protest was led by “bots and trolls”.
Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s cited the brand’s poor performance for their exits, while Today’s Shopping Choice didn’t comment beyond confirming the distance. Wayfair declined to comment and H-E-B did not respond to requests for comment. Zulily said she stopped wearing MyPillow in July. Affirm, the funding start-up, separately confirmed that it severed ties with MyPillow last week.
Matt Rivitz, co-founder of Sleeping Giants, said the claim about bots was “ridiculous”. During the Trump presidency, consumers had become more aware of their collective power, starting with advertisements on Breitbart and boycotting Ivanka Trump products at Nordstrom. This was the culmination of this effort.
“There were a number of videos in which Lindell made these verbal abuse of the theft of the elections that clearly led to violence,” said Rivitz. “It was only a natural inclination to ask companies if they support this because those companies have ultimately benefited greatly from democracy and probably don’t want the country to be in chaos over those lies.”
Mr Lindell said only one of the companies that had dropped its products cited incorrect information about voting machines, but added, “It’s pretty random when more than nine companies do this on the same day.” Still, he said he was not concerned about the impact on his business. He added that he did not see his comments on Right Side Broadcasting as “politically skewed” and blamed “abandonment culture” for the actions of retailers, despite expecting them to return to selling his products.
This month, Mr. Lindell was photographed at the White House with notes mentioning the Insurrection Act, which allows a president to send active military troops into the streets.
According to Tonja Waring, who worked there from 2009 to 2012 and appeared in the commercials, MyPillow was run from a former bus garage in Minnesota with around 40 employees until around 2011. Ms. Waring said Mr. Lindell was extremely loyal and had regularly resisted conventional wisdom on issues such as maintaining production in the US.
“He doesn’t care what people think or what they say – he cares about doing the right thing,” she said. She added that Mr. Lindell was more comfortable in the spotlight than when she first met him, when he was “barely able to go on TV”.
While the infomercials fueled the rise of MyPillow, they have also caused complaints. in the a settlement In 2016, MyPillow paid fines of $ 995,000 after a group of California prosecutors questioned the company’s claims that its products could alleviate insomnia, fibromyalgia, and other conditions. Last year, Mr Lindell was also criticized for offering Mr Trump an unproven Covid-19 cure.
When customers asked about health claims in MyPillow commercials, the two former store employees said they were trying to evade the topic without confirming or rejecting the promises made in the ads. A former employee said Mr. Lindell had also pushed stores to sell other products that were not recommended by workers, such as a powder that claimed to prevent wounds from bleeding in seconds.
In his memoir, Mr. Lindell wrote of “a seedy bankruptcy” he declared in 2003 to avoid a lawsuit involving a bar he owned and worked with a lender he met through his bookmaker’s stepson, who encouraged Mr. Lindell to invent false creditors.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been coloring outside the legal limits,” he wrote of the episode.
Even now, with retailers cutting their ties and being kicked off Twitter, Mr. Lindell is defiant and convinced that “real people” don’t care about the claims he’s been making.
“The people on the left, the Democrats, buy the same amount of products that they always buy from me,” he said, “and the people who support me to break the culture are buying more.”