Should non-political brands ever get political during these politically divided times?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands Explained

“Republicans Buy Shoes Too”

 Michael Jordan

The 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. If 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.


  • 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. I’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.

Not 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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