Retailers target Trump on tariffs with ‘Ferris Bueller’ parody ad campaign

Retailers are going straight to the source in an expanding effort to stop a potential flurry of steep tariffs proposed by President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE on foreign-made goods coming into the United States.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has recreated an iconic scene from the 1980s movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with Ben Stein, an economist and an actor, about tariffs and voodoo economics as part of a broad campaign to convince Trump and his voters that raising tariffs would cost jobs and damage the economy.


“We went back to the future and found some very effective arguments against tariffs in the movie ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and we decided to hire Ben Stein to help us deploy that message to a 21st-century audience,” said David French, NRF’s senior vice president for government relations.

French said that lobbying against the tariffs is tougher than other issues like border adjustment taxes because they are trying to reach an “audience of one.”

“I think at this point the notion of tariffs are more esoteric than real for most Americans,” he said.

“All we can do is throw at the problem things like research. We can organize coalitions and we can attempt to find innovative and creative ways to explain this to ordinary Americans.”

The 30-second and 60-second television spots began airing Monday morning on Fox News’s morning program, “Fox & Friends," a show that Trump frequently watches and quotes on Twitter.

For now, the ad also will air during ABC’s Roseanne in the Tulsa, Okla., market, the largest audience for the returning sitcom, during the season finale of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and on the campaign's website,

The television ads will be supported with a digital campaign urging Americans to contact the White House and members of Congress about tariffs. 

In the scene from the classic movie released 32 years ago, Stein, playing a high school teacher, lectures as his class either slept or listened slack-jawed to his tariffs lecture, but he gets some answers to his questions in the new NRF ad.

“What are tariffs, anyone, anyone know?” Stein asks.

He gets a response from Simone, a student in the 1986 movie who explained why Ferris Bueller was absent from class in the original movie by saying she’d heard through a convoluted grapevine that he “passed out at 31 Flavors. I guess it’s pretty serious.”

She employs a similar tactic in the NRF ad. 

“I’m not sure but my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend's brother’s girlfriend heard from an economist who said that tariffs will raise prices on everything from clothes to cars. I guess it’s pretty serious,” says the Simone character in the new ad. 

That’s right, Stein says.

“Tariffs raise taxes on hard-working Americans. It’s not complicated. Tariffs are B-A-D economics. Bad economics. Bad," said Stein. 

In the 1986 teen film, Stein talks to his bored class of high school students about how the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act raised tariffs to collect more revenue for the federal government in an attempt ease the effects of the Great Depression.

Stein then asks his less-than-attentive class: “Did it work? Anyone know the effects? It did not work and the United States sank into a deeper depression."

Trump has said he would impose anywhere from $50 billion to $150 billion in tariffs on China as well as a slew of duties on steel and aluminum.

“Ferris Bueller was one of the best comedies of its generation, but there’s nothing funny about tariffs and trade wars,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

“It’s simple — tariffs are bad economics and always lead to unintended consequences,” Shay said.

A recent study by NRF and the Consumer Technology Association found that the administration’s proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods would reduce U.S. economic growth by nearly $3 billion and kill 134,000 American jobs.

Shay says that the "very threat of tariffs is causing significant uncertainty for American businesses" and while there is support for applying pressure to China to change their unfair trade practices "tariffs are the wrong approach and will only drive up prices for American consumers."

On another trade prong, the NRF and more than 100 other associations representing retailers, manufacturers, farmers and technology companies on Friday sent comments to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert LighthizerBob LighthizerBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE outlining how the administration’s proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports would harm the U.S. economy.

The groups urged the administration to instead develop a comprehensive strategy to address China’s trade practices by teaming up with Congress and like-minded trading partners.

“The proposed tariff list and escalating tariff threats made by the administration will not effectively advance our shared goal of changing these harmful Chinese practices in a durable, verifiable and enforceable manner,” the coalition wrote.

“Only through extensive collaboration and alignment can the administration develop and execute a strategic policy to effectively address our shared issues of critical concern in China.”

French, the government relations vice president for NRF, will testify at the office of the USTR on Wednesday about their tariffs opposition.