An Opinion On Brands Having Opinions
March 21, 2017
If you’ve read a newspaper, watched a TV or talked to a human being in the past year, you may have noticed that we’re living in a fairly politically charged time in which many and most divisive social issues are top-of-mind and everyone has an opinion. Myself included. I have so many opinions. However, instead of taking this opportunity to ascend my own high horse and assert said opinions, I’m devoting this month’s edition of “Hannah’s Stream of Consciousness” to contemplate consumer brands having opinions of their own.
Now more than ever, companies are inserting themselves into tremendously contentious (and formerly unchartered) conversations. I’m talking immigration, systemic racism, feminism, transgender rights, climate change and more. There were brands that were unabashedly with her this election season, and others that leaned further right. There were companies that openly donated Black Friday proceeds to Planned Parenthood, and ones that made deliberate jabs at Trump’s Travel Ban in their Super Bowl ads. Seriously, just Google “brands and politics” and you’ll likely find yourself in the same overwhelming rabbit hole I’m currently in.
Needless to say, a brand runs a huge risk in expressing its views on socially and politically heated issues. So why do they do it? Because it can pay off massively. In fact, a Nielsen survey showed that 55% of consumers were willing to pay more for products from cause-supporting brands. A similar study from Global Strategy Group found that 72% of adults believe it’s important for businesses to address important issues facing society.
With that being said, there are plenty of cases in which a brand’s politics have landed it in steaming-hot water (e.g., Under Armour, Uber and New Balance). To avoid situations like these, below is a list of questions I personally believe every brand should consider before chiming in on a social issue:
Does our stance align with our company values?: Because before engaging in a politically charged conversation, a consumer brand should have a firm understanding of what its identity is, what its core values are and how these core values translate into a social or political opinion.
Is our message inclusive rather than alienating?: Because bigotry and exclusion don’t sit well with most, especially younger audiences whom often believe that equality is not negotiable.
Are we fully braced for backlash?: Because even the most positive, on-brand, well-meaning, inclusive social statement from a brand will inevitably receive criticism. What’s key, however, is not for a stance to appease everyone—otherwise it wouldn’t be a stance—but instead for it to resonate with and help gain further trust amongst the brand’s core audience.
Are we prepared to respond?: Because a national brand that has a large enough platform to make waves should also be able to stand by and defend an opinion when it’s inevitably called upon to do so.
My take in a nutshell: Brands should tread carefully and (more importantly) thoughtfully. To play it safe, many may choose to stay out of these controversial conversations entirely. However, I personally find that silence, especially when a company, person, or politician has a stake in the issue, can be extremely deafening.