View from the Street: Brand politics

Lyle Hill

View from the Street: Brand politics

I fully admit that we may have spoken enough about Donald Trump in our recent View from the Streets. Every single day he conducts himself in a manner that is worthy of comment, whether that be through his policy proposals or just his general demeanour. However, the news he generates constantly focuses the mind and must be debated accurately and tirelessly. It is because of this that I do not apologise for the large volume of time and effort we have devoted to trying to understand his phenomenon and how best to tackle it.

This week, I thought I would take a slightly different tact. The pervasiveness of the president in our everyday lives does not just stop at our television screens or our Twitter timelines. These both offer a valuable insight and serve as a reminder of just how powerful he is, but they do not tell the whole story.

An example of this is Trump’s tweet on Tuesday regarding Nordstrum’s decision to ditch Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Despite promising he would keep family and his role as commander in chief separate, this scourge on his daughter was obviously a step too far. Whilst the tweet is far from presidential, it points to a more structural shift that is taking place in business marketing and brand management due to his presidency, not just in the United States but across the world.

As politics has become more polarised and divisive, brands are being forced to take sides too. Politics has always been personal, but brands have been able to stay apolitical as consumers rarely associated their political decisions with what soap they wanted to buy.

This has changed now, at least for many businesses. Large corporates are increasingly incentivised to identify with certain politicised groups in society. An industry that has often tried to stay as far away from the divisive arena of politics has been forced into the fray as division increases. An increasing number of consumers (but not all, and perhaps not even a majority) now value the political positions of companies and shop accordingly. Brands are seeing this as high risk, but also high reward.

The best way to highlight this change is by looking at the event where ad space is the most expensive to purchase. The Super Bowl was held in Atlanta this weekend and the adverts that accompanied it were split fairly evenly between the usual humorous offerings and seemingly political statements.

Budweiser focused on the journey of its immigrant founder as he moved to America and started the beer company that now has the bulk of America’s market share (Bud Light is America’s most popular beer, capturing 18% of the market).

Audi also took a more overtly political message, focusing their advert on gender pay equality, quite a distance from the usual focus on horsepower and self-dimming headlights. The advert has been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube since Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, over 200,000 people deleted the Uber app from their phones after discovering that the CEO, Travis Kalanick, would sit on Trump’s business advisory council (he has since stepped down from this position after pressure). As I was saying, there is risk and there is reward.

The spread of politicised adverts hasn’t just been consigned to the United States, but many have all been influenced by Trump and American politics. Dove in the UK recently released an advert that made a mockery of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” comment. “New Dove antiperspirant can increase your IQ by 40 points” the ad joked.

As the Trump presidency continues and consumers become increasingly politicised, brands will have a choice to make. Do they continue with the apolitical approach designed not to offend or alienate anyone or do they engage with political issues? It’s not a choice I can imagine many will be content with, but it is a choice they will all have to make, sooner rather than later.