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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Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

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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 so we can stay connected.

How Come the “Occupy” Brand Never Reached Beloved Status?

The Wall Street Occupy movement felt grass roots, authentic and natural. The rest feel contrived and confused.

Forget your political affiliations or how mad you are.  I’m actually a liberal minded person.  Will we remember the “Occupy” brand five years from now?   If it’s the Left’s answer to the Tea Party, has it achieved the same connection and passion with their followers?     A clear and confused NO!!!

In NYC, the Occupy Wall Street had some early passion and it started to make the news.  People were clearly upset that during the recessions of the last few years, mad that the rich didn’t suffer, and even more mad that the evil bankers didn’t suffer.  The stats around 99-1 are very interesting and highlight a problem with Capitalism if not controlled.   Capitalism still has a place, but needs checks and balances.

With Occupy, people moved quickly to Love It stage, but with no direction, most have fallen back down to Indifferent.

In terms of looking at Occupy as a brand, let’s keep in mind that Brands move from Indifferent to Like It to Love and then a Brand for Life.  It seems that Occupy, quickly connected with a nerve among the people and moved quickly to the Like It stage, gaining very quick awareness.   Polls in early October showed strong support for the movement—much stronger than the Tea Party.   But then what?   Occupy as a brand is really just an idea at this point, but has yet to really turn into a movement.   It’s something that people want to latch onto.  It’s a promise, a concept, the hope of a movement.   All Brands are really just a promise—but it’s the best of brands can take that promise and clearly articulate their difference and then deliver that promise in a consistent manner.   Occupy can’t right now, and is at risk of diminishing to the point where people once connected at the early days are just falling back into the Indifferent camp.   The Occupy brand appears to be losing steam.  More recent polls have shown a steady decline and people are ready to move on.

So where did things go so wrong, in such a short period?

  1. No Consistent Message:  The early Occupiers refused to lay down the core message.   Because it was a grass roots movement, they didn’t want to dictate to others how they should feel.   They welcomed all, with all types of bitter messages.  So what happens to a brand that has a vague message or too many messages?   Nothing gets through to the consumer.   That’s advertising 101.  Even those who moved to the Like It stage were looking for direction that would take them to the Love it Stage.   But there was nothing.   Even the Wikipedia page on the Occupy movement can’t really articulate it in one sentence.  On the other hand, The Tea Party has one defining message:  Taxes are Too High and our Government is wasting our money.   They’ve stuck to it, refusing to get into political debates connecting to social policies, abortion, capital punishment etc.   That gives the people who are mad about taxes something to stay connected to.  The Tea Party movement now looks like it has a lasting power as a brand.
  2. The Occupy Brand Spread Too Fast, Too soon to where it didn’t Make Sense Anymore.   The Occupying Wall Street which is the symbolic place of evil bankers and CEO’s walking off with the money makes sense.  But that message resonates less when it spreads to Occupy Toronto where that same thing didn’t happen, or Occupy Portland or Occupy Vancouver or even Occupy Kingston Ontario.   While I’m sure the Occupy movement was excited to see it spread to so many places, it does feel like a retailer spreading their franchises too fast too soon.
  3. Those Occupying Changed Dramatically and it Impacts the Emotional Connection:   The original Occupy Wall Street projected a groundswell of “Average Americans” upset with the system.   People who had been burned and were “mad as hell and not going to take it”.  More recently, we’ve started to see Unions get involved—I get that they aren’t in the 1%, but they’ve shared and benefited in the same way as the bankers and CEOs.  Bail outs to Auto Giants kept Union jobs alive at $38 an hour to watch a machine put molding on the side of Buick.   The entry of Unions looks bad on the original groundswell idea.  And recently, there’s been a drug overdose in Vancouver and looting reported in many cities near the occupations.   It now looks like a bunch of Teenagers or Hippies, not your “Average Americans”.  This change makes it harder for the average person to stay emotionally connected and while people were at the Like It Stage looking to move to the Love It stage, many are now falling back to the Indifferent.   Polls now show most people support “clearing out the occupiers” in their cities.

    This sign says so much about the Authenticity of the movement.

  4. The Occupy Brand Never got to the Action Stage:   Classic marketing plans have a vision and mission, which is half articulated.   But what about the strategies, tactics and executional plan?    People are protesting that change is needed, but then no action plan is developed to make change happen?   People are screaming that the gap between rich and poor in the US is real and something needs to be done.   If Occupy wants to be a brand that continues, it needs an action plan.   Looking at the traditional brand funnel, they’ve generated the awareness and consideration but that’s purely a rational connection for consumers.  There is nothing to enable consumers to really take action.   Are they using social media?   Have they connected into a political movement with a leader, policies, candidates and even a few wins?   Is there a bill being sent forth in the name of the Occupy movement?    The Tea Party has all that and it’s what is keeping their consumers connected to their brand.  The Tea Party scored points among their followers this summer by forcing Obama into a corner of cutting spending.

    The Occupy movement was all about the head but no generated no real Action, never getting to the heart.

Unfortunately, the Occupy Brand looks like it’s a leaderless, rudderless brand in free fall.  There’s nothing for consumers to hang on to.  People are back to Indifferent.  And sadly, it could be gone by Christmas when we begin to drive that wheel of capitalism again–one more attempt to spend our way out of the recession.   In 9 more years, on one of those “Decade In Review” shows,  someone will mention “Occupy” as the big thing of 2011 and we’ll all smile and say “oh yeah, I remember that”.