Brand politics
05.06.2017 When brands get political

It used to be rare to see brands engaging in politics and social issues in a serious way, but the events of the past year, including the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, have motivated more companies to take a stand.

We were impressed by ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s recent blog in the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US out of the Paris Accord on climate change.

The ironic post detailed why pulling out of the agreement was “totally, definitely the right move”, with reasons including “being a global pariah is really cool” and “rising seas means you could have your very own ocean view”.

shutterstock_632971325Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

The biting satire in the blog delivered a hard-hitting criticism of the controversial decision and firmly established the company’s position.

Ben and Jerry’s is well known for its social values and activism, despite its corporate ownership, and regularly engages in campaigning stunts across the world.

Indeed, in Australia it is currently fighting for marriage equality by banning customers from having two scoops of the same flavour ice cream.

Navigating the political climate while staying true to your values is a tough task, however, and many brands struggle to get it right.

Taking an unpopular position or being seen to support a cause out of commercial opportunism rather than strongly-held beliefs can put off many existing and potential customers.

Sometimes brands get it so wrong they earn nothing but ridicule.

Pepsi’s Live Bolder advert, featuring reality TV star Kendall Jenner, was pulled earlier this year after a huge online outcry.

The commercial showed young people engaged in a protest that was visually similar to recent real-life protests in the USA such as those in the ‘black lives matter’ movement and January’s women’s marches.

The most controversial element was the ending, in which Kendall Jenner handed a Pepsi to a policeman and the crowed cheered while a woman in a hijab took a photo.

Pepsi was criticised for using these social movements to sell soft drinks. It apologised, admitting it “clearly missed the mark” and withdrew the ad.

Starbucks and AirBnB recently made headlines because of their opposition to some of President Trump’s more controversial policies.

shutterstock_567858913President Trump’s controversial immigration ban made some brands take a stand. Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz expressed his “deep concern and heavy heart” over the immigration ban. He said his company would hire 10,000 refugees over five years and pledged more investment in Mexico.

AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky also took a public stand, pledging free housing to immigrants displaced by the travel ban.

Both brands became the subject of online boycott campaigns, but also gained plaudits from many of their customers for taking a stand.

Other companies have taken political positions less overtly by withdrawing from contentious agreements and partnerships that don’t fit with their brand values.

Leading toy brand Lego has twice responded to pressure from campaigners in recent years by pulling out of controversial partnerships, first with oil company Shell amid protests over its arctic drilling and more recently with the Daily Mail as a result of the Stop Funding Hate campaign.

Last year cereal company Kellogg’s decided to stop advertising on news website Breitbart, saying the right wing outlet was not aligned with its company values.

Brands need to be extremely careful when taking a political stance. A study looking by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (known as the 4A’s) found that 58 per cent of consumers said they dislike it when brands talk politics.

Alison Fahey, CMO of the 4A’s, said: “Consumers are not looking to brands to take a position on political or social issues. There’s typically more risk than benefit.”

What political campaigns from brands have you found interesting? Let us know on Twitter.