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Should brands take a political stance?

Politics is woven into the fabric of our culture and whether you like it or not, the Trump era has had a powerful effect on polarising society at large. This week for Industry Insights, we speak with Digital Strategist Ben Shapira who has had an extensive history in ad-land, working with some of the biggest global agencies. He diagnoses why brands have been getting more political in their messaging and standpoint, and whether they should be getting on the political bandwagon in the first place:

 

Many businesses directly or indirectly have political stances that are associated with their brands and doing so requires a tremendous amount of preparation and thought given the potential for consumer backlash. But many people question if a business should get involved in political speech as part of their marketing platform (i.e: Airbnb offering refugees housing against Trump’s immigration ban or Cooper Brewery’s sponsorship of a video with anti same-sex marriage sentiment).

Businesses can and do take stances on a variety of political topics – labour relations, taxation, regulation, foreign trade practices – just to name a few. For many businesses large and small, these can have serious implications on profitability.

For most of us, we seem to treat this as acceptable corporate speech. We accept that businesses should have some say in the political process given the impact decisions of politicians make can ultimately have significant impact in a business ability to grow, hire, trade and make profits.

 

We seem to be warier in two primary areas:

  • First, where businesses taking a political stance – either through political contributions, lobbying or influence peddling – leads to corruption; and/or
  • Secondly, where businesses speak about social-political topics like human rights, religion, war, child labour etc. that go against the current status quo.

 

That is not to say that businesses do not take stances on these topics, but the few who do so often take the time to seriously consider the implications of doing so.

When businesses choose to take a social-political stance, they must consider the implications on brand perception, both online and offline, the changes to brand sentiment and the impact this will have on consumer purchase behaviour – including small or large-scale boycotts.

And businesses are not monolithic, they are made up of tens, hundreds or even thousands of people and as such brands need to consider the impact their views may have on its employees, both current and future.

 

So, is it worth it?

Well, there are benefits and drawbacks on both sides of any issue. Taking a stand can add to brand clarity and attract people with like-minded opinions. It shows that brands can care about more than their bottom line and can potentially make the world a better, more equitable place. On the flip-side, businesses taking an active stance on any social-political issue can have serious implications on business sales, credibility and its internal morale.

Ultimately businesses need to be careful and make sure to plan for all contingencies when taking a stance on social or political topics. They need to understand the likely impact this will have on their core customers, their employees and the vocal public.

 

Take a step back and see the big picture. If you decide to take a stance, hold onto that image and for as long as you can.

 

Get connected with Ben Shapira here.

 

Find more of Ben’s work on his website here.

 

Check out the rest of our Industry Insights and the #LeadingLadies interview series here!