Update: A year after writing this post, which serves partially as a literature survey, and seeing the narrative begin to push brands to take a stand, I conducted my own primary research on the subject — Study: Should Brands Take a Public Stand on Politics?
A few years ago, I got an email at work from headquarters. We were a fairly big brand, I was in a divisional office, and the New York office wanted to take a public stance on a local political issue. Many of the tech companies had already done so, and HQ sensed pressure to follow suit.
I’ve long believed businesses should generally avoid politics and looked to data to make a case for political abstinence. Since I was based locally, I could see the polling data on this particular issue was equally but bitterly divided.
No matter which side you choose, 50% of the population will be upset. It’s important to realize this “population” isn’t some abstract audience on a pie chart, but rather it includes half of current employees, prospective talent, customers, and stakeholders.
Inserting our organization into the political fray would be a distraction and that’s a losing proposition for a business.
Was that the right call? Should brands take a stand in politics? That’s the theme this week’s Unscripted Marketing links [UML] roundup.
As it is on the occasional Saturday, I offer three links – that argue for and against brands getting into politics – I’ve vetted and recommend for your perusal.
And if you read to the bottom, I’ll tell you the outcome of this story at the end.
1) “Belief-Driven” Buyer and “No Brand’s Land”
“More than half of consumers – 57% – say they buy or boycott brands based on the brand’s stance on a social or political issue,” according to a report – More than Half of Consumers Buy or Boycott a Brand Because of Politics – published on Marketing News.
“Additionally, 65% of ‘belief-driven’ buyers will not buy a brand if it stays silent on an issue they feel that it has an obligation to formally address.”
Let that sink in for a minute. It’s a classic case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
The data (and nearby graphic) stems from 2017 Edelman Earned Brand report and the PR firm seems inclined to recommend brands get involved.
“Edelman says this puts brands that ignore issues at risk of landing in ‘no brand’s land, a danger zone where people are more likely to become indifferent to a brand,’” according to the story.
Don’t miss these related posts:
How to Deliver a Genuine Corporate Apology [UML]
Writing, Labels and Cohorts; Words Really Do Matter [UML]
Public Relations: In History, at Crossroads and in the Future [UML]
2) Business Says; Business Owns
“Brands are entering conversations they might’ve shunned in the past,” wrote Brianne Janacek Reeber in a piece for Think with Google titled Brands taking a stand: 4 industry leaders on the new rules of brand culture.
She recaps an SXSW panel discussion and quotes Google Global Creative Director Ben Jones, who says:
“It’s a time of brand bravery where brands are really taking a stand, but safe space is disappearing. It’s an easy time for brands to jump onto passions, but what you have to remember is that those passions will define your brand from that point forward. So, you have to be able to own it.”
It’s not just a matter of figuring out how a business can take a stand, she wrote, it’s also ensuring a brand takes a stand it can live with.
3) Favor a Unifying Purpose over a Political Agenda
Divisive politics is a strategy for a politician to win elections. You don’t need 51% of the vote to win an election…you just need one more vote than the other candidate. Fire up the base against a common enemy and hope to “emerge victorious with the narrowest of margins.”
This is not a viable strategy for brands, writes J. Walker Smith of The Futures Co., in a contributed piece for Marketing News: Why Taking a Political Stance Is the Biggest Mistake a Brand Can Make.
“That’s not how brands win. To grow, brands have to keep rolling up bigger numbers of buyers. They can’t afford to alienate a large percentage of their buyer base.”
He concludes his piece this way:
“Brands must answer these challenges with purpose, not with politics. Political brands will get lost in a scrum of bitter divisiveness. Brands make a difference that matters when they take a stand as brands with purpose, not a political agenda.”
* * *
So, what happened in the story in the introduction to this post?
We didn’t say anything.
Want to know what happened next?
It was the right call for that business at that time, but I can’t conclude that’s the right call for every business every time. That’s one reason I publish these posts because we are all forever students of marketing.
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