Recently, there has been a growing divide about whether brands should engage in social issues or political or ideological debates. Some marketers argue that brands have a responsibility to use their platform to speak out on important issues, while others believe that doing so can alienate customers and damage their reputations.
So what are our thoughts? At O|M, we believe the answer to the question in the title of this post is no — most of the time.
Evidence from marketing missteps, such as the notorious Bud Light incident and numerous others across the United States, is a stark reminder. In fact, some of these missteps have been so egregious it seems many industry heavyweights may have skipped — or forgotten — the first day of Marketing 101.
How Should Brands Engage With Social Issues?
Simply put, brands should avoid aligning themselves with divisive issues or ideologies unless their core mission is to shift their audience’s stance on specific issues or offer products or services related to ideological or political matters. This advice applies to all marketers. The only exception is marketing teams aligned with politicians or political branding.
Why shouldn’t I advocate for what I believe is right?
The rationale is straightforward — there is no compelling qualitative or quantitative evidence to suggest that brands engaging with social issues by taking a stand on ideological or political controversies positively influence sales or service uptake. In fact, the risk of delving into such controversies significantly outweighs the potential benefits. Therefore, if you aim to boost profits and elevate revenue, it’s prudent to avoid any political, social, or ideological entanglements with your brand and products.
Bear in mind, you are at liberty to support whatever cause aligns with your personal beliefs in your personal time or political life. However, if the objective is to amplify sales and revenue, concentrate on crafting your unique selling propositions. Focus on strategically positioning your product or service to captivate the widest possible audience. Dedicate your energy and resources to innovative positioning strategies highlighting your product’s benefits compared to competitors.
Therefore, before enlisting an influencer to represent your brand or posting a supporting statement on Instagram, weigh the potential repercussions. Ask yourself, “Does this action benefit my brand?” and “Could this decision negatively impact my brand?”
If there’s a hint of potential harm to your product’s or service’s reputation, it’s best to refrain. Remember, countless alternative strategies, campaigns, or marketing directions can elevate your brand without jeopardizing its reputation.
Tips for Brands Engaging With Social Issues
If you decide to engage in a social, political, or ideological debate, do so thoughtfully and carefully. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of achieving your goals and minimizing the risks.
Consider the Target Audience
If a brand’s target audience is likely to be divided on a particular issue, engaging in a debate about it could alienate some customers. For example, a brand that sells products to both liberals and conservatives may want to avoid taking a stand on a hot-button issue like gun control.
Consider the Brand Image
If a brand is known for being apolitical, taking a stand on a controversial issue could damage its reputation. For example, a brand known for its family-friendly image may want to avoid taking a stand on an issue like abortion.
Consider the Potential Benefits and Risks
On one hand, engaging in a debate can help brands build relationships with customers who share their values. Alternatively, it can alienate customers who don’t share their values. Brands should weigh the potential benefits and risks carefully before making a decision.
Here are some additional tips for brands engaging with social issues:
- Be clear about your goals. What do you hope to achieve by engaging in this debate? Are you trying to build relationships with customers, raise awareness of an issue, or something else?
- Be respectful of all viewpoints. Even if you disagree with someone’s opinion, respect their right to have that opinion.
- Be prepared for backlash. No matter how carefully you plan, you’ll most likely face backlash from some customers. Be prepared to handle this backlash professionally.
Contact O|M for Marketing Questions and Assistance
Ultimately, the decision of whether to engage in social, political, or ideological debates is a complex one. But the safe bet is to focus on what your unique product or service brings to the table. If you have questions regarding brands engaging with social issues or need assistance with your brand’s marketing, contact our team today.