Can Politics Be Contagious to Brands?

Politics has always been a controversial business, yet brands are willing to take political stances. Taking into consideration the fact that brands are not politicians and cannot lobby or make an advocacy group, they are mainly executing a political agenda on behalf of an “interested constituency.” Where this strategy is perfect in advancing a political cause, it might have an opposite effect for brands, as brands cannot win by using this strategy.  In order to win more business, brands need to use a different strategy- they need to extend their consumer base. It is largely believed that a brand’s growth is dependent on consumer loyalty. However, loyalty is not enough for a brand to grow; brands must have a widespread appeal. Brands also need to unite different group of consumers with divergent values and preferences.

While it is smart and safe for brands to ignore politics and make most of it a secondary concern, they cannot be completely passive. Politics  nowadays  blends with lifestyle and can no longer be treated separately. That being said, brands need a new vocabulary for communicating with consumers. Most interestingly, brands are finding themselves as the advocates for enforcing civility and decency in public life. These various roles urge brands to answer every challenge with purpose, not with politics. Political brands will eventually get lost in the crowd of bitter divisiveness. Brands make a difference that matters when they take a stand as brands with purpose, not a political agenda.

The Global Strategy Group has been measuring Americans’ views on business and politics. The main question being asked was – How did Americans feel about politically involved companies? The results were balanced: Americans treated the brands as individuals and expected them to have their own political identities and beliefs. According to January 2017 results, 81% of Americans believed that corporations should take actions and address the society’s more salient issues. However, consumers were more supportive of companies that took a stance on issues directly affecting the company; such as the minimum wage, pay equality, industry-specific issues, and economics. Acceptance was the lowest on more diverging social issues, like abortion and marijuana legalization.

The results also indicated that Coca Cola and the Walt Disney Company tended to enjoy the highest ratings. Uber and Google also showed heavy political involvement, while their ecosystem was fairly young and progressive. Starbucks, however, had very contradicting results, as some consumers were supportive of its role for taking a stand against building the US/Mexico border, while some were outraged by it. However, it is evident that these companies have made the environment a core piece of their brand identity. So, it is no surprise to either customers or stakeholders when the leadership speaks out in support of environmental issues.

References

Brehse, T. (2017). Should Your Company Take A Political Stance? Retrieved from: http://blog.ignitespot.com/should-your-company-take-a-political-stance.

DeMers, J. (2017). Getting Political Can Cause Your Business Dearly If You Are Not Cautious. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2017/02/16/is-it-dangerous-for-your-brand-to-get-political/#647a78438611.

Smith, J., W. (2017). Why Taking A Political Stance Is The Biggest Mistake The Brand Can Make. Retrived from: https://www.ama.org/publications/MarketingNews/Pages/brands-shouldnt-be-policital.aspx.

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5 Responses to Can Politics Be Contagious to Brands?

  1. Jeanette Yuen says:

    Mariam,
    This is an interesting concept to think about. Usually I would think it’s best for businesses to keep out of political stances because it could deter what was once a loyal customer to shop or do business somewhere else. Unless it is a universal issue such as environmentally friendly or bullying, anything under the “sensitive topics” such as abortion or a politician stance, it’ll probably affect the business negatively. I think businesses just need to be “street smart” to rethink whether it is best to stand up for something or to take sides. Regardless, it’s still interesting to know that some big companies have taken sides on serious issues and have seen positive outcomes out of it.

    – Jeanette Y.

  2. Diane Cancino says:

    Hello Mariam,
    You address a very timely and interesting topic. The minute a company decides to donate money to a political campaign, the corporation has crossed the line into politics. There are many people who will not patronize certain brands based on their contributions to Democratic or Republic causes and candidates. It is entirely reasonable however that Corporations donate to lobbyists to further their agenda.

    My favorite website to check this information is http://www.opensecrets.org

    For example, the Walt Disney Company does not donate to politicians directly, but it does give a considerable amount of money to lobbyists as the multi-media company supports issues such as copyright protection, decreased government regulation over television and normalized trade with China.

  3. Violet Ward says:

    Hello Mariam,
    Personally, I no longer watch t.v. news. I find most of the information extremely negative, especially politically driven news. In fact, I find myself happier when I stay away from most political topics in general.
    Therefore, I much rather affiliate with a consumer brand that promotes positive feedback than a brand that supports political controversy.

  4. Brett Bezad says:

    Hi Mariam,

    I am glad you wrote about this since I think about this all the time, especially since politic discourse seems to become more polarizing each year.

    Politics, in regards to branding, seems to take two forms. On one hand there are politics that are about issues, and on the other is politics about people. In my opinion, involvement in the latter is much more dangerous.

    For example, some corporations may take initiatives to work against climate change. Even though some question the validity about climate change, a company promoting the environment is not likely to be met with great backlash since it lacks a “face” so to speak.

    On the other hand, there is politics that focus on people and social issues. This includes immigration, equal rights, abortion rights, etc. As evidenced with Starbucks and immigration, or Chick-fil-a and marriage equality, both gained costumers in support (or opposition) towards these issues, but were also meet with protest, boycotts, and backlash as well.

    There are exceptions to every rule. However, there seems to be a trend that if organizations get into “people politics,” its very hard to not alienate a large portion of their audience. Also, given the fact that the country has become more divided in recent years, organizations are going to be more cautious in regards to political involvement.

    Great post!

    Brett

  5. Elia Sanchez says:

    Miriam,
    Your post brought to mind Starbuck’s pledge to hire 10,000 refugees within the 75 countries where it does business in response to president Trump’s travel ban primarily appearing to be against countries with high Muslim populations (Disis, 2017). I agree with you that brands seek to grow by expanding their consumer base. However, in this case, Starbucks received heavy criticism for taking on such stance. Following their announcement, Reuters reported that Starbucks had been experiencing a decline in sales (Vizcano, 2017). Although Starbucks negated such a claim, one can only take an educated guess in that not everyone was as receptive to the pledge at Starbuck’s CEO would have expected. Sometimes doing what’s right, may not be the right thing in the eyes of others.

    References
    Disis, J. (2017). Starbucks pledges to hire 10,000 refugees. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/29/news/companies/starbucks-hiring-refugees/index.html

    Vizcano, J. (2017). Plan to hire refugees damaging Starbucks’ brand and sales. Retrieved from https://www.rt.com/business/380128-starbucks-refugee-hiring-hurt-sales/

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