Should Non-Political Brands ever get Political during these Politically Divided Times?

“Republicans Buy Shoes Too”

 Michael Jordan

UnknownThe last few years, we’ve seen a divide in politics–bigger than we’ve seen in generations.  In the US, it would be safe to say the country is equally divided between democrats and republicans, with about 10-20% acting as the swing vote.  There are so many issues that divide us–our views on marriage, guns, taxes, education, healthcare, race, immigration, religion, the environment, war and the list is growing.  There are red states and blue states.  The most loyal of the Democrats and Republicans are each digging in deeper.  Around the world, we are seeing the same divide, variations different issues.  

Now, if your entire brand is about healthcare, I get that you should have a position anything to do with healthcare.  1112_no-republican-democratic-politicsIf your about an environmental brand, of course you should have a position on global warming, energy efficiency and oil drilling.  And if your a bank, being outspoken on debt, tax rates and the interest rate is well within your realm.  

But if you are selling organic groceries, fried chicken, washing machines or laptops, you’d be really stupid as a brand to pick a side and speak out.  I love politics, but I love making money even more.  If there is a chance you could lose 45% of your audience, or even 10% because you think it’s important for you to share your political conscience, then terrific.  Give up the reins of being a Brand Leader, grab a sign and find a spot on the grass.  

  • The comments regarding support of traditional marriage by Chick-Fil-A’s president Dan Cathy caused a political uproar that definitely had an impact on brand perception.  Marketingland noted that the positive brand image that Chick-Fil-A once took for granted was dealt an almost fatal blow and the BrandIndex score in the northeast US for Chick-Fil-A fell from a 76 down to a 35.  Chick-Fil-A responded to this disaster by backing entirely out of media comments and distancing the company’s position from the personal opinions of Dan Cathy. But the damage to the brand was cemented when Sarah Palin lined up to get her chicken wings.

Elle s'appelait sarah" (2009) 

  • John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, is dealing with a huge backlash from customers of the upscale supermarket chain who have been angered by his recent comments likening Obamacare to fascism.  Mackey, who made the comments during an interview promoting a book on capitalism, has since tried to walk back his more inflammatory statements, explaining he was talking about fascism in economic terms, not as a system of repression under the Third Reich.  Obama supporters, many of whom love Whole Foods, turned on the brand with comments on Twitter, Facebook and any blog they could find.  UnknownI’ve seen John Mackey on CNN trying to retract comments.  I’d suggest he get himself a Communications VP and never talk into a microphone again.  
  • Donald Trump has been one of the most outspoken celebrities in the political area, many times embarrassing himself rather than offering the voice of the right.  The Apprentice, once a top 10 show finished 113th last year, with ratings falling from 20 Million people down to 4.5 Million.

1097579Not only is it dumb to divide your market in half, it’s also arrogant to think we care about your view.  Just because you are running a successful Brand, doesn’t mean your view matters.  

Maybe we could all learn a lesson from Big Bird.  Even as he was brought into the political debate by a slip of the tongue by Mitt Romney, what did Big Bird and the rest of Sesame Street decide to do with their new found attention.   They stayed quiet.  That was the smartest political move they could make.  After all, republican kids watch Big Bird and Elmo. 

In terms of Politics, Brands would be better off just staying silent.
 

Here’s a summary on Creating a Beloved Brand

 

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About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

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6 thoughts on “Should Non-Political Brands ever get Political during these Politically Divided Times?

  1. Where I’ve seen it used successfully by brands up here in Canada is when they come out in support of the democratic process and swing their corporate weight behind the imperative to vote. Other than that, it is, as you say, dangerous ground.

  2. There is no such a thing as an apolitical brand. From the wages they pay to CSR practices (not to mention lobbies and donations), every brand is making a political statement the moment it exists. (You are specifically talking about PR blunders.)

  3. FYI, After their stance I now shop at Chick Fil A and Whole Foods. I don’t go to Trader Vic’s and Olive Garden any more. I avoid GE. So Graham, you are correct about alienating your audience. You have alienated me by living profit before principal. Please remove me from the notification list that I will not now sign up for.

    • Mike, you are certainly welcome to your political opinions. As for my bias, it’s pretty observant of you to see that I value profits when you come to a website that promotes the idea that the more loved your brand is, the more power your brand can command and that power can be used to drive higher growth and profits. As for me taking you off any notification, get off your ass and do it yourself buddy.

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