Should brands get involved with political activism?
The intersection of politics and brands can be complex and mind-boggling. In a world defined by global communication and connectivity, online memes and ideological movements have a huge impact, both on individuals and on companies. While brands should always strive to recognise and create an authentic vision, it's just as important to avoid alienating people by aggressively pushing political views in ad campaigns.
Let's take a look at the current state of corporate "political activism", and at why it's probably a good idea to remain neutral in your advertising.
Political activism is more prominent than ever before, with everyday people and small groups now much more capable of reaching out to a global audience.
With just a few clicks, people can connect with others and broadcast their beliefs. While this more direct form of opinion sharing can be a good thing, there is also the risk of a toxic aftertaste. This is one of the factors that makes such grandstanding a potential minefield for brands.
Campaigns that backfired
A number of large global brands have suffered commercially by getting too involved in political movements, with some even losing within seconds reputations that took decades to build. While no-one expects a brand to avoid an issue completely if it's directly related to what they do or what they're about, some brands are seen to be overstepping the mark and have faced direct financial consequences.
Gillette took a hit after their #metoo ad backfired in a big way, with viewers feeling "confusion", "disgust", and even "contempt", along with the expected "surprise" and "shock". Their attempt to associate the Gillette brand with the campaign was rejected by the public as being tone-deaf in its messaging and a subsequent backlash ensued.
Pepsi also got it wrong with their disastrous campaign involving Kendall Jenner. While the ad originally ran to just two and a half minutes, the social implications were far more prolonged. The image of a beautiful young model during a protest march handing a Pepsi to a policeman was largely viewed as a cynical attempt to exploit the Black Lives Matter movement. The result? A PR disaster.
Marketers say "no" to politics and activism
The financial implications of brands getting involved in political activism are very real, and for the most part, very negative. There is also a lot of consensus around this issue, and marketers charged with building brands generally advocate for caution. According to The CMO Survey, which questions 324 professional marketers, only 21.4% believed their brands should take a political stand.
Small companies are even less likely to participate, with only 17.1% agreeing to "take a stance on politically charged issues."
Of those who were happy to take a political stance, 75.8% did so because they believed it showed that they cared about something more than just profits.
While this is all well and good, the market will see straight through you unless your timing is perfect, your messaging is sincere, and, in most cases, the issue is directly related to what you do as a business.
There are other inherent risks with politicising the branding process, as political issues and views are often temporary in nature.
Of the vast majority of brands who didn't want to take a political stance on charged issues, 67.8% thought it had a negative effect on the company's ability to attract and retain customers. Most brands represent a diverse group of stakeholders with a multitude of political views, and so a particular political focus is likely to cause confusion and alienation.
While politics should not be completely written off as a no-go area for brands, it's more important than ever to create clear messaging that is authentic, relevant, and consistent with your long-term vision and commercial interests.