Is it appropriate to jettison any element of your brand that makes you recognizable, charming, or singular for the sake of a popular social cause, fashion, or trendiness?
You probably remember the hot water Chick-fil-A landed in a few years ago when their COO, Dan Cathy, made headlines for his comments on same-sex marriage.
Along with the additional backlash when activists called for boycotts in response to the company’s financial support of organizations dubbed hostile to LGBT rights.
At one point throughout the controversy, Chick-fil-A’s CFO was interviewed and asked about the situation. He notably responded, “We just want to make chicken.”
Defining Your Brand’s Message and Values: Should You Get Political?
Reports are mixed as to whether customers expect, like, or are turned off by brands making social or political statements.
According to a 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, sixty-four percent of consumers worldwide will make a purchasing decision based on a brand’s social or political position.
These customers in the study were dubbed “belief-driven buyers”.
Edelman also reported that the majority of the 8,000 people surveyed believe brands have more power to address and solve social issues than the government.
We’ve seen many brands take the lead or react to current political or social events. Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, for example, drew public criticism in the wake of mass shootings; they ultimately stopped selling certain firearms in response.
Nike of course partnered very openly with Colin Kaepernick in recent ad campaigns, while Kaepernick was under fire as a controversial figure. According to Edison Trends, Nike’s online sales increased 31% immediately following the announcement of Kaepernick being featured in their “Just Do It” campaign.
On the other hand, a study from the American Association of Advertising Agencies found 58% of consumers disliked marketers taking political positions and concluded that political stances may strengthen a brand, but only among core customers — limiting growth opportunities.
Steve Jobs – “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Is Social Media Telling the Truth?
In the wake of Nike’s partnership with Kaepernick, the brand experienced major backlash on social platforms, especially Twitter. Users even shared videos of themselves burning their Nike clothing and shoes in protest.
And as mentioned, Nike saw a significant increase in sales following their campaign with Kaepernick.
Another example of social media backlash to brands making socio-political statements is Gillette. When the brand released their commercial speaking out against toxic masculinity, they faced tons of calls for boycotting on social media.
In both cases, the negative sentiment expressed online didn’t seem to extend into the “real world.” Offline sentiment of the Gillette brand remained largely unchanged.
Where do you stand? Do you think it’s appropriate, or perhaps even a responsibility, for brands to engage in public discourse? Head to our Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and let us know your thoughts.
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