Today marks the one year anniversary of Donald Trump winning the presidency of the United States. The 2016 election was the most heated, emotional, chaotic, and nontraditional campaign in the history of our country. Everyone got in on the action — cable news outlets didn't hold back on unleashing polarizing political commentators and even usually-neutral CNN was forced to take a side. There was a line divided down the middle of our country and you were either going to "make America great again" or announce yourself to the world as a "nasty woman."
Even brands speaking out against seemingly universally shared beliefs such as shutting down hate speech (Kellog's), removing based-advertising with children's toys (Target), promoting equal pay for women (Audi), and supporting refugees (Starbucks), they are being branded as "political" and met with social media-inspired outrage and boycotts. Since the election, a tide has turned in advertising. Previously, consumers didn't want to know anything about political affiliations, but now they want to know which side of an issue their favorite brands stand on.
Companies are beginning to realize that an authentic and compelling point of view differentiates them from their competition and can significantly enhance customer loyalty. Why?
- Consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress affecting our country, specifically social issues, and are vocalizing their anger and taking political action
- Social media has also proven itself to be the ideal platform to express any (and all) opinions
- Trump's brand of governing has jolted passion and fury. His provocative attitude, political demands, and unorthodox populism have been countered with sweeping response online
A survey by J. Walter Thompson earlier this year indicated that 78% of consumers agree that companies should address important social issues. Advertising professionals recognize this trend too. A recent study by the 4A’s revealed that 67% of these professionals believe that changing American values are causing brands to become more interested in corporate responsibility and values-based marketing. This study also showed that as a result of the presidential election, most of these professionals (57%) recognize that understanding the demographics and values of a brand’s customers is more important than ever.
Here are three politically-charged brands that aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in. While many have faced criticism for their stances, more supporters have arisen than haters:
Photo courtesy: The Today Show
North Carolina's infamous "bathroom bill" was spurred from a law banning people from using the bathroom of their choice, instead of requiring them to use restrooms that align with the gender they were born with. Not only did Target support their customers using the restroom of their choice, they made their stance even more clear by releasing a press statement that said, “We believe that everyone —every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally. Consistent with this belief, Target supports the federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBT individuals, and opposes action that enables discrimination.”
While some on the right side of the aisle boycotted by posting to social media with the hashtag #BoycottTarget, supporters launched a competing hashtag #ThankYouTarget. To reiterate their stance, CEO Brian Cornell has given national interviews restating their tolerant bathroom policy. There has been no impact on Target's stock prices.
2. Proctor & Gamble
Photo courtesy: The Kansas City Star
As the largest consumer goods company in the US with brands like Tide, Crest toothpaste, Gillette, and Pantene, Proctor & Gamble took a personal approach in affirming its commitment to the African American community. While many brands respond directly to specific social events, the "Talk About Bias" ad campaign didn't directly respond to a news story, but focused on black mothers discussing racial bias with their children.
The commercial begins in the 1950s and moves through the decades to modern day, showing that having “the talk” has been a tradition and hinting that racism is an ongoing problem facing our country. While the commercial can be seen as subtly acknowledging Proctor & Gamble’s presence in the American home, no products are visible or promoted, allowing its social message to stand on its own. And while both supports and critics have weighed in on the success of the campaign, social media has embraced the branded hashtag #talkaboutbias.
Photo courtesy: Mashable
The ride hailing app took a strong stance against Trump’s immigration actions and ban on Muslim refugees when, in an email sent to users, Lyft noted that it is “firmly against these actions, and will not be silent to issues that threat the value of the community.” This was one of the strongest statements against Trump’s unconstitutional executive orders from a tech company and also included action behind the email. The ride hailing company also announced it will donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the next four years. The ACLU filed suit against Trump’s administration for the refugee ban, and succeeded in getting a temporary stay of the order from a federal judge on Saturday.
Many other Silicon Valley companies have opposed the current administration, including Google, Microsoft and Apple, but Lyft has done so with a public document (the messages from many others were shared via leaked internal employee emails) and with a clear articulation of why Trump’s actions are wrong on a moral level, not just as a potential hindrance to acquiring top level global talent, or as a threat to current employees who enjoy U.S. visa status.
As the Trump administration continues to polarize the country, more brands will step up to share their social and political beliefs with consumers. Smart brands will reevaluate their values and promises to ensure they are still relevant, authentic, and clear. All companies should invest in new or expanded customer engagement services, ideally to identify and reach out to their brand evangelists. All views, negative or positive, can spread to a very broad audience literally overnight with today's social media landscape.