Why Brands are getting political in 2017

In 2016 we saw a lot of Brands being pressured into making marketing and strategic decisions based on politics. Lego in the UK was asked to “Stop Funding Hate” by a pressure group dedicated to preventing right wing ‘News’ Papers publishing hate stories about refugees, Muslims and migrants. They duly stopped [Link] Telstra flip flopped on Marriage Equality being in then out then in again thanks to various campaigns [Link] Brexit saw many Brands come out on both sides of the divide, with James Dyson very much pro and Richard Branson no. [Link] [Link]

All that was just a storm in a politically correct tea cup until Mr Trump took office in January. I’m not sure if there is a CPD [Chief Political Director] on the Board Of Directors in any corporations right now but it suddenly feels like a relevant and much needed position. After 5 short days in office, with brands saying “let’s give the guy a chance” it took just one hasty and divisive Immigration Ban to see Brands clamoring to distance them from Trump.

Each Brand has approached the issue in its own way and for its own particular reasons. Some CEOs just wanted to voice their personal opinions and some were hoping to stop a consumer backlash. Some went for direct open condemnation whilst others used the ban to reaffirm their own values. Values that they see as the polar opposite of the Trump administration.

“Coca-Cola Co. is resolute in its commitment to diversity, fairness and inclusion, and we do not support this travel ban or any policy that is contrary to our core values and beliefs,” Chief Executive Officer Muhtar [Link]

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, showed up at a protest at San Francisco International Airport, where he noted that he was himself a refugee, having fled the Soviet Union as a child [Link]

Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 Refugees in response to the ban [Link]

Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick , quit Trumps Advisory Council saying “Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”

Traditionally Brands saw politics as a banana skin to avoid slipping on and to quietly step around, but not anymore. As IBM has found out, saying nothing says everything [Link] Big Brands can no longer just sit politics out, no matter how good their intentions are. Brands have had to comment or run the risk of being seen as endorsing Trump’s policies. Many Brands however are seeing this as a positive way to gain greater customer advocacy by reasserting their core values, to create stronger ties with their customers. “Nike stands together against bigotry” [Link]

Of course this cuts both ways. There are a lot of avid Trump fans out there and the Muslim Ban will have delighted them but they are a minority when it comes to engagement. Those who will suffer because of the ban have been far more vocal than those who think it might be a good idea. When Breitbart followers tried to fight back against Kellogg’s the levels of engagement were relatively small and had negligible impact on the Brand [Link]

Even before Trump took office there were a number of campaigns against him and his family. Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist, started the #GrabYourWallet hashtag following the publication of a leaked tape that showed Trump making lewd comments about women. Coulter used the hashtag to encourage people who were offended by Trump’s language and actions to boycott companies doing business with his family. Following this Nordstrom recently found itself on the receiving end of a scathing Trump Tweet for ditching Ivanka Trump’s Clothing Line after pressure from #GrabYourWallet

“Boycotts are as American as apple pie,” says Shannon Coulter, calling it a tradition that started with the Boston Tea Party in 1773. What is new is the level of Trumps involvement, how many Brands are getting drawn in and the many different reasons. Women’s groups, Environmental groups, Scientists!, Teachers, Racial and Religious minorities, Free Speech advocates… are all mobilizing against the Trump administration and Brands are now seen as either part of the problem or the solution.

What we can see clearly from all this is that Brands are playing a more and more important part in our lives, emotionally. We buy from companies that share our beliefs, so their impact on the Environment and Society must be aligned with ours. If we buy products to become better people, [Brand + Self = Ideal Self] then it is inevitable that politics will play a role when it comes to point of purchase. When we are buying a product the brand that stands for Equal Pay, Climate Action, Social Justice… will more likely be preferenced over the Brand that sits on the fence.

Main Image: LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 21:  A child marches during the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Downtown Los Angeles for the Women’s March in protest after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Women’s Marches are being held in cities around the world.  (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)