Politics has long depended on marketing, with a leader’s image being critical to any political campaign. But marketeers, and brands in particular, have historically tried as hard as possible to avoid politics. However as the political scene has become more divisive, especially in the wake of Brexit, the rise of Marine Le-Pen in France and the election of President Trump in the US, brands have found themselves drawn into the political debate unwillingly. During the US presidential election, Kellogg’s took the decision not to advertise on a website championing Trump, reportedly after some customers expressed disapproval. But the news website in question, Breitbart, hit back, labelling Kellogg’s un-American, cowardly and launched a #dumpkellogg’s campaign in retaliation.
Meanwhile, in the UK, an online campaign called Stop Funding Hate set out to stop high profile brands from advertising in the Daily Mail because of its reports on immigration and refugees. The power of social media gave the campaign the legs to take off. Lego opted to stop promoting its products with the newspaper. But John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, both specifically targeted by the campaign, held firm and vowed not to enter the debate. Companies can also be drawn into politics through the views of the celebrities they endorse or brand ambassadors. Gary Lineker, for example, said he had spoken to Walkers crisps about the refugee crisis and the Stop Funding Hate campaign. Again, Walkers chose to resist his intervention.
So should brands pick sides in a political battle? The forthcoming election in the UK will serve to reignite the deep divisions caused by Brexit, raising the question of whether companies – and their brands by association – want to reveal their position. One agency turned the argument on its head, and researched which brands resonated most with Leave or Remain supporters, arguably providing useful information for future sales strategies. Brands want to be relevant to their consumers, and understand what motivates them. They want to get under their customer’s skin and tap into cultural, financial and business trends. While the risk of a brand taking a political position is obvious, potentially alienating a large percentage of hard-to-win customers, it seems there is also a risk in not having a strategy in place to address these hot-potato political issues when they arise.