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Should brands take a stand?

Recent political activity evolving from the Donald Trump administration and Brexit has generated a lot of talk in the media and news globally and brands have been taking part in political conversation to showcase their purpose. There has been a lot of debate on whether purposeful brands should involve themselves in political conversation or if they should merely concentrate on the business sector.

Taking a political stance can be risky, sure. Some people will love the message you’re sending out, but what about those who oppose the political belief you’re gunning for? Under Armour faced criticism from their anti-Trump consumer segment after its CEO publicly supported Donald Trump. Consequently, the criticism and online pressure to boycott the brand was due to consumers associating the support with Under Armour’s brand values. The consumer backlash heavily affected their profits; 32% stock price decrease. Couldn’t it then be argued that brands risk consumer alienation regardless of their political stance. Fashion retailers, Nordstrom and T.J Maxx faced similar boycott threats from pro Trump supporters for publicly opposing the president’s political decisions. In this case, brands need to consider the fact that consumers from either end of the political spectrum have the ability to shun a brand.

Brands need to analyse their overall consumer values before they make political statements based on their purpose. But is the alienation from political involvement too much of a risk to a brand’s profits? Maybe the best advice here would be for brands to postpone their overly saintly status, solely focus on marketing their product and only join the political conversation if legislation directly affects their business function.

However, consumers now demand that brands should be involved in the political debate. A study conducted by Sprout Social, revealed that it was either “very important” or “somewhat important” for brands to speak out on political issues. I believe that consumers are distrusting the government and now turning to brands to provide certainty in a time of uncertainty.

The social unrest following the election of Trump and Brexit has shown that governments do not represent people and so, brands must take the unrest as an opportunity to showcase their brand’s purpose. This will attract vulnerable consumers who are looking for some sort of stability and value alignment. In light of this, Tesla, for example, would retain and capture the attention of environmentally conscious consumers by speaking out on environmental legislation because their purpose is dedicated to environmental sustainability.

If brands are seen to be adding value to the world at an unstable time, they are worth supporting. For example, Lyft experienced consumer support following the Muslim travel ban. Lyft spoke out against the ban in a blog stating how it was against their company beliefs and they made a $1m donation to the ACLU to protect the constitution. This was a clear demonstration of their opposition. Their company values resonated with people who also denounced the Trump act so much that Lyft became the fourth most downloaded app, overtaking its competitor Uber in the ranks. In contrast, the lack of political response from Uber led to its users deleting their app and promoting Lyft as their new service taxi service of choice. Evidently, consumers are receptive of brands communicating their views on trending political issues, because it gives them the opportunity to voice their own political opinions and values.

I can’t forget to mention the Nike’s Kaepernick ad which has taken up my social media feeds in the past week. The knee-jerk reaction to the inclusion of Kaepernick – both positive and negative – was unsurprising. The debate quickly devolved into two camps, one “for” Nike and one aggressively “against,” as one time fans cut swooshes off their socks, burnt their trainers, and American sports teams surrendered their Nike t-shirts.

But it looks like team “for” won because on the Nike stock prices closed at an all time high on Thursday. Nike know their audience well. They know their target of younger audiences buy Nike trainers and are conscious consumers.

They’ve been making political stands for as long as I remember and it seems to be working in their favour. Perhaps the fact that they are not just jumping on the brand purpose bandwagon makes this ad successful. It just feels more authentic to me. We know Nike for their political stance, if we didn’t maybe I would be wearing New Balance trainers now instead of Nike Runners.

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