Brands should steer clear of politics.

It’s either a touchy subject or a really hot one. Can marketing be political? Better yet, should it be? 
BRACT Team
May 26, 2021
Brands should steer clear of politics.

It always gets a little spicy.

A brand or company by definition is ‘a particular identity or image regarded as an asset’ (Oxford Languages). Somewhat like an anonymous person taking all the responsibilities from you. You shouldn’t want to give an opinion as this person.

Any scenario in which politics are brought up is bound to be an interesting one. Unless you’re in a meeting or rally for the side you stand with, someone is going to have an idea that opposes yours. Now, this isn’t to say that all opinions are dangerous, or that these scenarios will always lead to conflict. But, it is to say that no matter what the political situation is, there is always some sort of marketing or advertising involved. And specifically in politics, any side that an advertisement takes, or even if it’s neutral, will be seen as a sort of propaganda.  So, what exactly do we do in these situations?

On one hand…

As marketers, do we have a social responsibility? Politics is essentially just marketing an idea, or social issue to people in order to sway them one way or another. Since marketers obviously do it best, do we have a responsibility to get involved and do what's right? What is right? A brand’s main concern should be with their audience. A definitive idea of how their audience will react to everything they release should be considered before releasing anything. 

Social responsibility is a term relative to the person speaking about it. In which situations does it apply? 

Based on her research, Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment believes that because of the analytical vantage point that marketing brings to the table, it allows for a more in-depth understanding into political parties and their opinions. Rather than getting involved, she demonstrates how marketers can use their skills to analyze different political parties and their approaches to the political war. 

In his book about marketing and its concern with social issues, Seymour Fine discusses the idea that marketing has three selling aspects to it: 

  1. The actual selling of a product to a targeted consumer. 
  2. The selling of a service to a person in need of it.
  3. An aspect that does not involve the exchange of products or services. The product being offered  “... is an idea or a social issue or a cause-a concept” (Fine, 1981). 

This is a concept not seen before in marketing research. However, the idea that you can properly market an idea or a concept to a consumer and help them make up their mind or form an opinion about something is not anything new. When you combine this concept with politics or any social issue, it then becomes ‘idea’ or ‘concept marketing’, as Fine puts it. 

On the other hand…

Everything that gets uploaded onto the internet is inevitably going to exist forever. Even if it’s deleted, it will exist somewhere in digital space. 

A brand is often mistaken for a company or an agency, but the reality is that it can be a person, a persona, or anything else you wish to brand yourself with. This means that when you decide to voice your political (and possibly unpopular) opinion on social media, it can completely polarize your audience. And the side that does not agree will ultimately disappear. If you separate yourself from your brand, the turnout may be a bit more positive. 

For example, a CEO of a company wants to support their favorite cause. Perhaps this person feels passionately about fighting child poverty around the globe. Now, you may believe that there’s no way anyone could disagree with their opinion on the matter, as poverty is indeed a terrible, ongoing tragedy of the world. However, it’s more so about the use of their company's platform to project an opinion, when it might not represent the entire company itself, or its consumers' views. 

The proper way to approach the situation, should the CEO feel the need to take action, would be to post on their personal social media accounts, making their own followers aware, or to donate to a cause (taking action is always better than shouting words!). 

Marketing expert Tommy Landry explains that when you take a political stance in your writing and work, people tend to have an emotional response, which can result in two things: the viewer either agrees completely, or disagrees and loses interest. The direction in which the outcome will go is completely unpredictable depending on the size of your audience and reach of your output. Thus demonstrating the uncertainty of mixing political opinions and marketing. Landry also points out that political posts, advertisements and opinions tend to bring out the negative either in general, or in another party. At the BRACT, we stand for positivity and kindness. Shouldn't we all? 

We’ve discussed how marketing can affect politics, but how can politics affect marketing? 

There is a saying that goes ‘all press is good press’. When Nike decided to sponsor and produce ad campaigns with Colin Kaepernick following his controversial decision to kneel during the National Anthem before every football game, they faced an abundance of criticism, but their stocks rose and remained high for quite some time (Schweidel & Bendle, 2019). Does this mean that despite projecting the wrong opinion or idea, (or one that, in general, will bring you negative criticism,) you will still gain popularity from somewhere in the crowd? 

The famous siblings Gigi, Bella and Anwar Hadid, all three of which are runway and print models, have recently used their social media platforms to speak on the topic of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict currently taking over the news. The siblings collectively have over 100 million followers between their three Instagram accounts. Due to the sensitivity surrounding the matter in which they discussed, they received an extreme amount of backlash, but also managed to inform and misinform their millions of followers about one side of a long, historical argument. They used their extensive influence to tell only half of the truth. Because of the negative influence Bella, herself, had on the world, she has lost several of her modeling contracts. The takeaway from this example is how important it is to separate your brand from your personal being. 

Social media is a dangerous place, whether you use it cautiously or not. People can skew your words so far from what they were intended to mean, and it could cause you your reputation and your brand. It can also be a place used to spread positivity and kindness. We recently talked about how advertising and social media go hand in hand when it comes to your online presence. However our message may come across on social media platforms, we must stand up and take responsibility for it. 

If you want things to change, lead by example. 

If you want to get involved in politics, get involved by yourself, as the owner. Your company/brand is not you. Your followers and consumers may not have the same political views that you do, thus potentially putting your customers’ loyalty at risk. 

If you really want to make things change, be an example via your actions, not your words. 

If you want justice for those who contribute to animal abuse, advocate for it, if you care about the future of the planet, reduce your meat consumption, if you want to support global warming, recycle your trash, and if you want to take part in a political debate, do it at your own discretion, but don’t involve your company. 

Citations:

Fine, Seymour H. The marketing of ideas and social issues. New York: Praeger, 1981.  

Landry, T. (2016, October 16). Politics and Marketing Simply Don't Mix . Return On Now. https://returnonnow.com/2016/10/politics-and-marketing-simply-dont-mix/.

Lees-Marshment, J. (2001). The Marriage of Politics and Marketing. Political Studies, 49(4), 692–713. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9248.00337

Schweidel, D.A., Bendle, N. Marketing and Politics: Strange Bedfellows no More. Cust. Need. and Solut. 6, 37–40 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40547-019-00104-2