Remember the days when companies stayed out of politics? Conventional wisdom told brands to avoid anything divisive for fear of alienating certain customers. But in a time of polarizing views and political upheaval, those rules seems to have gone out the window. Political activism has entered mainstream culture, and many brands are prepared to join the conversation.
The Business of Politics
While mission-driven brands have long played a role in building consumer loyalty, this phenomenon has moved beyond things like sustainability and charitable giving. And customers are responding by “voting with their dollars”.
Following Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from 7 predominantly Muslim nations, Lyft donated $1 million to the ACLU. Starbucks vowed to hire 10,000 refugees and Airbnb offered free housing to refugees. Uber, spurred by claims that the company had broken a taxi drivers’ strike by disabling surge pricing, found themselves facing a viral #DeleteUber campaign.
On the other hand, some brands may unintentionally be making a statement. Nordstrom (later followed by Neiman Marcus and others) chose to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s product line, citing declining sales. Many are wondering if Nordstrom was giving in to popular sentiment, taking a stand on their own, or simply responding to supply and demand.
Consumers, especially millennials and younger, value honesty and companies “doing the right thing”. According to Global Strategy Group, 26-35 years olds are 20% more likely to shop at companies whose social-political stance mirrors their own. Another study by Buzz Marketing Group found that 78% of millenials feel they have power as a consumer to influence big brands. Eighty-three percent like when brands make a public stand for, or against, issues they believe in.
Risk vs. Reward
Brands deciding to publicly show support should be careful to make sure it aligns with pre-existing company values, or otherwise will seem inauthentic and opportunistic. When a brand sticks its neck out and challenges customers to rally behind them, they are encouraging action and telling customers “we are willing to stand up for what we believe.” Consumers nowadays are expecting companies to actively live their ethics. For example, if the company stands up for gender equality, they better take a look at their own personnel make up first.
On the other hand, brands may lose some customers. It will either be those who don’t agree with the brand’s view or those who think companies should stop meddling and telling customers what to think.
The more polarizing our population becomes, the more brands are being forced to pick a side. Brands considering taking a stand on social-political issues may risk offending half of the population but may also gain a more passionate, loyal following. It’s up to them to decide if it’s worth it.
Also published on Medium.