I realize the new Edelman report is encouraging brands to take a stand. Of course consumers of 2018 want you to take a stance, they want to know who to boycott and trash on Twitter. For most politically minded people, politics in 2018 has become similar to cheering for a sports team.
My advice: be careful.
When the stance you take fits with your brand’s values, it will work. When it seems like a leader of the brand taking a personal stance, it seems shallow and tends to fail.
There is a big difference between a values-driven belief and a personal political stance.
For instance, Patagonia is pro-environment, so it works for them to take a stance on environmental issues. They have earned the right to speak out on fighting for public lands or the environment. It’s not an ad to them; it’s part of who they are. Their consumers see that stance as a perfect fit. It is natural that most hikers are environmentalists.
Another great example when it works is with Nike, who wanted to show they have their athletes backs, so taking a stance to support Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling works. The younger consumers are fans of the great athletes who are outspoken on politics, such as Kaepernick, Serena Williams or Lebron James. While there was the early talk of a Nike boycott, the actual Nike consumers loved it.
The former CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, is extremely political, likely much more than the Starbucks brand or those who work for him. He has made numerous attempts to take a political stance, such as the #racetogether campaign, but his customers rejected many of those campaigns saying “you just sell coffee.” Given only 55% of people vote, many don’t want to be reminded of politics at a time when they are trying to escape.
The Chick-fil-a CEO has taken many political stances, opposite to those of Shultz. He is against gay marriage and has made a very pro life stance. Again, they sell chicken, and it doesn’t fit with the brand.
In the Kendel Jenner Pepsi ad, they tried to take a stance or two stances at once, by being for world peace and pro-police and managed to upset everyone. If you are going to play the middle of the road on politics, that might be even worse, so you may as well not say anything.
When there is no natural fit with your brand, stay quiet. Very quiet.
Looking at the Edelman data, while people want to know your stance, the same amount says they want to buy a brand because of their position, and will not buy it. While you can argue that’s an equal win-loss, if you sell ketchup, and lose customers because of your stance, you can’t expect the rest of your consumers to start using twice as much. Again, make sure it fits.
With such a divided electorate, it is too dangerous for brands to take political sides.
As a person, I love that people have political convictions and applaud them for speaking out. I loved that millions marched. It was truly inspirational. Now, if you enjoy speaking out, go for it. Your choice. I know you think I am wrong. I have tried to hint to friends that they should tone down their inflammatory Facebook posts, but to no avail. They seem to need that therapeutic. It is perfectly OK for an individual, buried somewhere on your personal Twitter or Facebook feed with your 334 followers. Have fun.
Higher profits gives you more of an opportunity to make an impact that matches up with your values
Brand’s only exist because companies figure they can make more money than if they sold the product alone. If having a conviction makes you more profits, I say, “Have more conviction!!!” However, if it costs you money, be smarter. Higher profits will allow you to make a difference quietly. If Nike makes more money supporting Kaepernick, they should do it. If Patagonia can make more money taking an environmental stance, then keep doing it. The math for Nike works because younger consumers are attracted to that message, and they spend significantly more on shoes than older consumers who might boycott Nike.
The only political stance I will ever take in public: go vote.
Make sure your brand’s stance fits with your brand values
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If you need our help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 416 885 3911
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Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.