What to Consider Before Your Brand Takes a Stand Politically
The costly #DeleteUber backlash shows that large majorities of Americans, and not just millennials, will harshly punish a brand they perceive as unethical.
The intersection of politics and branding is ripe this year. From legal action against President Trump’s executive orders to numerous Super Bowl ads, many brands have chosen to take a stance in the current political climate. In particular, Trump’s order to ban travel from seven Muslim countries spewed uproar across the world last week. While several brands garnered positive attention for showing solidarity with those affected, Uber suffered as #DeleteUber trended on social media channels and consumers began to question the brand’s position. Personal politics aside, this is a good opportunity to reflect on recent consumer research and summarize key takeaways for your brand.
1. Consumers expect you to take a stand.
Research shows that we live in a time where consumers are increasingly distrustful of the government. Over half (57 percent) of Americans say that they’re frustrated with the federal government and only 19 percent say that they can trust the government always or most of the time. Consumers are instead relying on businesses to utilize their power and capital to help support causes they care about. Recent studies show that 84 percent of Americans believe that businesses have a responsibility to bring about social change on important issues, just after the president (89 percent) and congress (92 percent).
This trend, while led by millennials, is present across all consumers. In fact, 78 percent of millennials and 74 percent of the general population think more companies should take a stand on important social issues. This recent data further validates that consumers today see the brands they use as more than just products, but as a representation of who they are. It’s your job to show them how.
2. Actions (or lack thereof) can have drastic effects.
When news hit that Uber dropped surge pricing during a taxi strike at JFK and that Uber’s CEO also joined Trump’s business advisory council, #DeleteUber trended across social media platforms alongside photos of consumers everywhere deleting the app. These results reflect much of what marketers are seeing in recent studies – more than one in three (35 percent) Americans say they would stop buying an unethical product even if there were no available substitute.
Juxtaposing Uber’s bad week, Lyft capitalized on the moment by donating $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years, and in conjunction, surpassed Uber by jumping to Apple’s fourth most downloaded app. This is no small feat, as Lyft, currently valued at $2.5 billion, matches just a fraction of Uber’s recent $50 billion valuation. Although time will tell how this will affect their businesses in the long run, at the very least, traditional Uber loyalists now have the Lyft application on their mobile devices.
3. One size doesn’t fit all, but actions do speak louder than words.
While most of the attention centered on Uber and Lyft last week, other brands found their entryway into the conversation. Starbucks, for example, promised to hire 10,000 refugees and Airbnb offered free housing to refugees stranded by the travel ban. These brands didn’t necessarily use capital to align with a cause they supported, but instead figured out useful ways they could help given their business model. Furthermore, although many brands have recently aligned with political causes, the cause you choose doesn’t have to be political (although it should be relevant). It’s crucial to pick a cause that aligns with your corporate values and purpose instead of just focusing on the hot topic of the day. With more than half of consumers expressing skepticism about the motives behind cause marketing campaigns, it’s crucial that you remain authentic.
If we’ve learned anything thus far in 2017, it’s that brands command consumer’s attention when they get personal. Ultimately, consumers recognize that humans are behind the brands they use and want a chance to truly connect with experiences that brands create. Because politics are a particularly passionate topic this year, expect to see numerous other brands jump on the political bandwagon to express their stance. In the meantime, take a stand that makes sense for your brand, keep it simple, and back it up with action.
Khalil Grell is an associate strategist at global brand strategy, design and experience firm Siegel+Gale, where he helps some of the world’s leading companies employ strategies that fuel unique and impactful brand experiences. Defining himself broadly as a problem-solver, he has a wide variety of experience working across consumer, healthcare, and corporate brands. Khalil received his BA from Amherst College, where he majored in Economics and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @khalilgrell