Brands In Politics: Implicit Responsibility Or Unnecessary Risk? - TRANSPOSE MAGAZINE

Brands In Politics: Implicit Responsibility Or Unnecessary Risk?

Brand values take on new significance after Trump election victory

Brand values are taking on new significance for costumer goods manufacturers in the US, as well as in Europe. The elections of Donald Trump, has polarized a lot of public attention and sparked off a wave of social need to take position in politics.

Brands today are clearly starting to be vocal about their values as millennials are beginning to demand more from an employer then just a career and salary. Costumers are pushing brands to be more transparent about everything, from what went into their product to how they interact with the local political vision.

After the release of the Super Bowl Coca-Cola commercial championing diversity and the Budweiser ad depicting an immigrant chasing the American dream a lot of other major brands have begun to engage in this highly sensitive corporate and social environment. Whether it is Starbucks’s repudiation of the executive order banning immigration from seven countries, Uber’s chief executive stepping down from Mr. Trump’s business advisory group following a boycott, or Nordstorm’s move to abandon Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, brand values have been inadvertently politicised.

Companies are being forced to take a stance – populist or liberal – whether they want to take a step for one’s respective fight or not.

“Americans now are using brands as a mechanism to fight with each other. They’re becoming the weapons in the social war” – Financial Times reports Thomas Ordhal, chief strategy officer at Landor, a branding consultancy. “Consumerism meets political activism”.

Just some in the fashion industry have taken a stand.  As stated by Business of Fashion’s founder and CEO Imran Amed in her editorial, Von Furstenberg, a Belgian stylist and entrepreneur said: “The fashion industry has always been a reflection of what America is all about… inclusion and diversity.” And scores of industry professionals — IMG’s Ivan Bart, models Gigi and Bella Hadid and casting director James Scully — participated in political protests, which they shared on Instagram. But, the vast majority of large fashion companies still preferred to stay silent, as confirmed by Imran Amed.

There was a time when big businesses and their high profile executives were expected to remain neutral on political issues. But the nature of today’s political agendas, including Brexit negotiations and EU countries’ upcoming elections makes it clear: now is not that time.

Increasingly, consumers want to feel that their dollars support businesses that reflect their personal values, whether it’s buying eco-conscious products or spending extra for Made in America/Spain/Italy. But a wildly divisive administration has the potential to codify our retail choices in unprecedented ways.

Combining brand power and politics is tricky but it also something they can turn to their advantage, industry experts say, even if they come into conflict with the White House policy. “It’s a chance to come good and stay consistent”, states Mr Edelman chief executive of the eponymous public relations consultancy. “Not just making money but standing up for values and standing up for what consumers expect of them.”

This then raises the question: What happens when a brand aligns itself with political sentiments that it does not appear to necessarily uphold?

A recent example is automaker, Audi – another brand that had a politically themed advertisement during the last Super Bowl; the ad focused on pay inequality between men and women in the US, and ends with copy that reads, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone. #DriveProgress.” Expectedly, the ad roused controversy: apparently Audi’s executive team in America is overwhelmingly homogeneous, only two of 14 executives are women, and only one is not white. In such an instance, the seriousness of such a prominent political statement is not the only thing that is undermined; the brand’s credibility also comes into question.

Brands have a moral and social responsibility to take political stances – stances that benefit the societies in which their businesses operate. Taking a stance also presents a real opportunity to connect with consumers on issues that matter to them, and thereby foster brand popularity and loyalty.

This is the rise of the political brand. Politics and brands are clashing right now. But maybe some good can come out of this because businesses will have to properly think about transparency, and will be compelled to take a position and have a point of view.


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