How Taking a Stand Can Hurt/Help Your Reputation

November 02 / Andrew Kopp / filed under Internet Marketing

reputation management politics marketing

We’re living in what is arguably the most politicized era in modern history. From social media posts and pop-up ads to TV commercials and lawn signs, we’re inundated with campaign messages and endless amounts of cross-party shade. People care about the issues, but when is it appropriate for brands to let their own political flags fly? Or is it ever okay to let your brand take a stand?

Answering the Consumer Call

Marketing is an industry built around customer preferences. We build campaigns to help solve pain points – if there’s a problem, the best companies come up with and expertly convey a great solution – but sometimes brands are called to deliver more than products.

A Sprout Social survey found that two-thirds of consumers think it’s important that brand’s publicly declare their political and social leanings. More than half of survey participants want to see those declarations on social media. Even more interesting is the data suggesting brands are preaching to the choir; 66% of those surveyed said knowing how a brand stood on political issues wouldn’t change those consumers’ own opinions.

Know Your Audience

When 84 Lumber, a company out of Pennsylvania, sent a preview of their immigration-themed Super Bowl ad into the powers that be at Fox, they probably didn’t except an outright rejection. Still, that’s what happened. Fox knew the ad’s thinly veiled swipe at then President-elect Trump’s plans for a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border wouldn’t go over well with the broadcaster’s decidedly conservative viewership.

For 84 Lumber, the rejection had mixed results: the company lost a big chunk of change retooling their ad, but the media coverage garnered them a lot of publicity they might never have otherwise had.

Go Whole Hog and Accept the (Hopefully Positive) Consequences

Wisconsin-based Penzeys Spices may specialize in artisanal seasonings, but their owner, Bill Penzey, isn’t afraid to sprinkle politics into the mix. In fact, Penzey is loudly and unabashedly anti-Trump and has major issues with the Republican Party as a whole, too. In an email to the Penzey’s mailing list following Trump’s election, Penzey said “The open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election is now unleashing a wave of ugliness unseen in this country for decades…. Let’s commit to giving the people a better choice.” More recently, he shared a long Facebook post about now-Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh that began with, “Now more than ever, Kindness can’t sit down simply because anger has stood up” and ended with a reminder that Penzey’s most popular seasoning blend was on sale.

Some pundits call Penzey’s outspoken activism “full moonbat” and called what they saw as hate-filled lefty elitism, but the numbers speak for themselves: although Penzey’s reported a 3% drop in customers in the weeks following that original post-election email, online sales jumped by an impressive 60%.

Much of our focus has been on left-leaning marketing campaigns. That’s not due to any particular bias but rather a reflection of the current climate – brands are more likely than ever to speak out about liberal viewpoints because they’re chasing the coveted 25-54 advertising demo. As with most things in marketing, political rants and social justice commercials are as much about dollar signs as they are a way to share opinions and create change.

What’s The Risk?

According to YouGov, over one fifth of consumers have boycotted a brand after negative press. Of these boycotting consumers, only 26% eventually went back to shopping at the brand. If your political statement is negatively received by consumers, you could face a huge financial risk. Whenever you make a strong political statement you might alienate every consumer who doesn’t hold similar political beliefs.

In June 2012, after the CEO of Chick-fil-A announced that he opposed same-sex marriage, it was revealed that the company had been donating money to anti-LGBT groups for years. In the year following the controversy, the company had a 12% increase in sales. This increase in sales is attributed to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee declaring a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” immediately following the controversy.

Across the country, however, reactions to Chick-fil-A’s stance were mixed. In July 2012, the company lost a large deal with the toy company that creates Muppets. In October 2015, the company opened a franchise in Manhattan and were faced with a large group of protestors. In June 2018, the CEO of Twitter issued a public apology after eating at Chick-fil-A during Pride Month.

Even after the CEO of Chick-fil-A issued a public apology and acknowledged that mixing political beliefs with customer service was a mistake, outrage against the company continues. Many Americans still boycott the brand, with no signs of stopping anytime soon.

So, are politics right for your brand?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there an issue I feel strongly about that would also resonate with my audience?
  • Am I willing to take the risk that my opinion may not be well received?
  • Will the uptick in sales from consumers with shared beliefs make up for losing potential buyers turned off by your positioning?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then taking a political stance may be a good move. Still, it’s important to remember that there’s always risk involved. If you’re a small local business with a limited pool of potential consumers, think twice about alienating any portion of your community by touching on hot-button issues.