Brands Position in Politics?
We are living in a very politically charged nation, especially this year. With the proliferation of social media, it seems everyone is weighing in on all the hot topics, even making topics hot when they might not have become issues otherwise. Manufacturers realize the power of social media in influencing conscientious consumers’ purchase decisions. As a result, advertisers react if they feel a show's topics and messages could affect their brand’s reputation. A recent case in point was the Sandra Fluke uproar on the Rush Limbaugh show. More than 40 advertisers fled in the wake of the controversy, concerned about what their support of the show might communicate to customers.
Ben & Jerry's Speak Out
Marriage equality legislation is recently been a very hot topic, drawing support and opposition from every sector in our nation. In order to address this controversy, many brands feel obligated to take a stand, even if it means they may alienate customers with opposing opinions. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Ben & Jerry's ice cream launched their “Apple-y ever after” flavor in Britain as a display of their support of same-sex marriage. Ben & Jerry's solidified their stand by joining Stonewall, a gay rights organization, to launch a Facebook app that allows users to make marriage proposals to their significant others. If the proposal is accepted, you'll be featured under the “recently married” section of Ben & Jerry's Facebook page and a note will post on your wall that reads, “I'm supporting marriage equality in the UK with Ben & Jerry's. Everyone should have the right to live Apple-y Ever After! Peace, love and fairtrade ice cream!"
Ben & Jerry's stand on marriage equality shouldn't be surprising, as they have long been known as advocates for equal rights. Just three years ago they renamed “Chubby Hubby” to “Hubby Hubby” to celebrate Vermont legalizing gay marriage. But can it hurt a brand to take a stand on such a polarizing topic – even one known to be likely to be supportive of it?
Help or Hurt?
The answer is maybe, according to Duncan Lewis, group marketing and development director at AGE UK. As in the case of Ben & Jerry's, Lewis asserts that taking a political stand need not be feared if it's done in a consistent and integrated way, as opposed to a company just being opportunistic. This is certainly true for Ben & Jerry's. The company's spokesman, Sean Greenwood, said in a recent interview, “Sticking up for civil rights by … Ben & Jerry’s goes together like big chunks and swirls in ice cream.” It's doubtful that ice cream lovers will boycott their favorite brand over their political views. In fact, Ben & Jerry's did not see a decrease in customer support after its stand on the issue three years ago.
However, dabbling in controversial issues is not always without negative consequences. Always consider what your brand is, your company's values, the sector you are targeting and the role your product plays in your customer's lives. The net sales pendulum could go either way.
For example, Great American Restaurants, based in Virginia, decided to ban customers from openly carrying firearms at their 10 locations. CEO Randy Norton admitted he enraged a sector of his clientele and they boycotted, but, he did not feel an economic impact from the lost business as supporters brought in more business.
Bottom line, it's a gamble. Think carefully about whether your company should get involved. Depending on your brand positioning, you could earn respect and strength in your brand position. Conversely, bad messaging and misjudging customer loyalty and opinion could be detrimental to your brand. In any case, let cool heads and careful consideration dominate the decision.