The Risky Business of Mixing Marketing With Politics

Politics permeates virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives, and it’s constantly on display in every channel of media. So it’s no surprise that in seeking to connect with, and seem relevant to, their customer base, marketers from time to time invoke the politics of the day. However, the risk of such tactics often far outweighs the marginal rewards.

Jayson DeMers writing for Forbes cites numerous studies pointing to the growing political divisiveness in the United States and notes that “lately, more and more brands are making a political stand, incorporating charged messages and imagery in their advertisements, and sometimes making official statements about the politics of their companies.”

The New England Patriots organization, for example, while riding high on its stunning comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons, has seen some dissension among the ranks of its loyal fans, based on past support for President Trump from quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. Starbucks gained the ire of Trump supporters who called for a boycott of the coffee shop chain after it pledged to hire 10,000 refugees in the wake of Trump’s controversial executive order on refugees.

DeMers details a recent example comparing Uber’s and Lyft’s responses to Trump’s executive order.

“Lyft has long been in competition with its more popular rival, Uber, but Uber made a mistake when it took a gentle political stance. After President Trump’s highly contested immigration ban, two Iraqis were detained at JFK International Airport, and the New York City Taxi Worker’s Alliance protested by refusing pickups. Uber continued to operate, ignoring the situation, while in contrast, Lyft announced a $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Almost immediately, the hashtag #DeleteUber began to circulate, and for the first time, Lyft surpassed Uber in total downloads for a day – January 29th – as a direct result of the hashtag campaign. Just a few days later, on February 2nd, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, quit President Trump’s economic advisory council amidst mounting pressure from the public and employees over his ties to Trump.”

When considering the potential pros and cons of such political stances, it’s crucial to know your audience. Do a majority fall on one side or the other of the major political issues? Even if the majority takes one side over another, is it by such a great margin that it’s worth alienating the remainder? Is your stance significant enough to draw more new business than the existing business you are putting at risk? Will your audience find your stance genuine or be turned off by perceived phony opportunism?

In such a heavily divided political landscape, such stances are risky business. Is it truly worth alienating a significant chunk of your consumer base for a brief bump in sales or social media attention? Certainly some big brands think it is. What about you?

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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