Historically speaking, brand marketing and politics get along as well as I do with an early morning alarm - AKA: they don’t, or rather - they didn’t. Lately, my alarm has shifted back an hour and I’ve been learning to enjoy my morning routine. I brew a pot of Nicaraguan coffee and ruminate on my to-do list for the day while I catch up on the news. Some brands have also been paying close attention to their morning wake-up call and entering where brands have never dared to go before: “No Brand’s Land”.In a world where even our devices have something to say, established brands are now weighing in on issues across the political spectrum more than ever before.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Nike recently made the bold move to politicize their brand by betting on Colin Kaepernick in a time when just mentioning his name can divide a dinner table faster than your waitress can split the check. In fact, shortly after the reveal of their new “Just Do It” campaign, the internet was almost literally ablaze with Nike customers burning their $200 pair of sneakers.
Trends show that 76% of consumers would not purchase a product from a company that “supported an issue contrary to their beliefs”. But despite those trends, Nike rolled the dice and their risk came with a “61% rise in sold out items.” Regardless of where you stand on Nike’s decision, it’s hard to ignore the results: 170k new Instagram followers, a 31% jump in sales from Sept. 2 - Sept. 4 (double the company’s sales during the same period a year ago), and a surge in Nike stock that still hasn’t dropped back to pre-ad levels.
In 2017, Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” campaign set unsuspecting, political polar opposites across the table from each other and beers in front of each of them.It worked, in part, because the aim was not to incite a movement, but to evoke emotion.#OpenYourWorldpic.twitter.com/wKh4oeNdTz
— Heineken® UK (@Heineken_UK) April 26, 2017
Each person shared stories, asked questions, and came to the conclusion that the person seated across from them (no matter their party affiliation) was just that…a person. Heineken's campaign illuminated the fact that wherever we sit, it’s possible to find commonalities in those we consider opposing forces and that regardless of our current fractious political climate, mutual respect and understanding is still possible.
Since we’re on the topic of polar opposites, I can’t talk about brand controversy without mentioning Pepsi’s 2017 Kendall Jenner ad. The ad was panned by critics and labeled "hopelessly tone-deaf" by those on the left and considered anti-American by those on the right. When people boycotted the soda, Pepsi was forced to pull the ad.
Where did Pepsi go wrong? They tried to piggyback off the Black Lives Matter movement and ended up whitewashing it in the process. In my mind, the commercial reduced the social injustices committed throughout the years to something that could easily be fixed by a pretty white woman with a soda. It diminished the movement’s agenda to nothing but a marketing ploy.
The one thing that consistently seems to rub customers the wrong way, regardless of political agenda, is the appropriation of social justice issues as a tool to increase revenue. A cause marketing campaign may result in success and profits may increase, but it has to happen organically.
The Age of the Customer has shown that consumers are savvier than ever and will see through any half-hearted attempts at cause marketing. A genuine commitment to the cause, rooted in a deep desire to make a positive change seems like the winning formula here - because as we’ve all seen, a watered down campaign does nothing but motivate customers to revolt. So to all the brands out there, if you’re going to take a stand - be bold and be authentic. Otherwise, the risk might not be worth the reward.