Nike is one of the most well-known brands in the world. Most of their messages are about empowering people from all walks of life, and their advertisements are usually a little bit edgy without raising too much controversy. When they used Colin Kapernick in an ad, it came as a bit of a surprise. Due to his unwillingness to kneel during the American national anthem, Kapernick had become somewhat of a contentious figure, and including him was deemed dangerous. In the end, the ad has been deemed a success rather than a flop, with a high approval score.
Remember the Pepsi commercial from 2017 with Kendall Jenner? The commercial evoked imagery of protests, and communal solidarity, and even appeared to address themes of police brutality – all of which were hot social problems at the time. People were quite puzzled and angry, and Pepsi was forced to pull the advertisement. Not only was it awful for Jenner and everyone else involved, but it’s now practically difficult to think of Pepsi advertising without recalling that infamous commercial.
To state the obvious, supporting contentious social topics and taking a public opinion on a contentious political subject necessitates that businesses walk cautiously – very carefully. An ad campaign or other public support for a contentious issue can elevate a business from zero to hero status, or vice versa. Aligning with a contemporary socio-political issue should be carefully evaluated more than any other public relations play or marketing strategy.
Supporting a contentious or divisive social issue is desirable for a variety of reasons; otherwise, why would any firm do so? According to a recent Nielsen survey, 81% of millennial respondents expected their favored firms to make public pledges of corporate responsibility. In another poll, 87 percent of Americans asked said they would support a brand that pushed for an issue that was important to them.
Promoting a company’s ethical ideals isn’t the same as taking a stand on a social issue, yet the two frequently go hand in hand.
The following are some of the advantages of taking a stand:
Strengthen brand identity.
Every brand should have a distinct identity that is conveyed through its marketing. Visual branding, copywriting tone, marketing, and advertising activities, as well as the company’s objective and basic values, all contribute to a brand’s identity (to name a few).
If a current social issue is related to your company’s fundamental principles, taking a public opinion on a trending issue may be beneficial. Supporting a contested climate change bill, for example, could potentially be a wonderful way to strengthen your brand identification if you provide ecologically responsible items and have environmental conservation as fundamental values. Patagonia, maybe the best illustration of this, is an outerwear brand. The founder is quite vocal about politicians who deny climate change, which has bolstered the brand’s responsible and progressive reputation.
Significantly increase awareness.
Participating in a political debate or supporting a cause can help your company gain attention. The more heated the debate and the more fervent your support, the more others will speak up. For some, all publicity is good publicity, and if you believe that, taking a stand may be a good call for increased brand exposure.
Increase revenue and customer loyalty.
Given that the majority of Americans (according to certain research) would support brands that promote an issue they care about, it’s easy to see why so many corporations do it. A company’s support of an issue can surely boost sales as long as it is sincere and well done. Though many businesses take a position on a public subject in order to increase sales and recognition, doing so too openly is deceptive and may actually harm the brand.
Taking a stand on a social issue can often lead to disastrous consequences. Some potential drawbacks:
Isolate a sizable segment of your audience
When it comes to difficult matters, it’s critical to consider the danger of losing clients who support the other viewpoint. Taking a political stance may result in more than just a loss of a segment of clients; it may result in a full-fledged boycott.
Cause a lot of backlashes that you aren’t prepared to cope with.
Even if you don’t lose consumers as a result of speaking out on a contentious social subject, you may be forced to answer a slew of inquiries you weren’t expecting. If you genuinely believe that taking a stand is the correct thing to do, make sure your public relations team is fully prepared to deal with any potential reaction.
The possibility of infringing employees (and investors).
Customers may applaud your public support for a social cause, but what about your employees and investors? Make certain that your entire team is on board with your message, or you risk losing some of your most important players.
Before you jump the gun and deliver a message that could harm your brand, consider the following:
- Who is our intended audience, and are we certain that they believe in what we are proposing?
- With this message, who might we alienate?
- What is the message’s goal (more publicity, or a part of the brand’s true ethos)?
- What are the ramifications if it fails miserably?
- Is this stance “on brand,” and does it align with the other principles of our company?
- Are we prepared to support this posture on a long-term basis, or are we simply jumping on the bandwagon?
Taking sides on a contentious social topic may not be the greatest choice if you are risk-averse. However, there are ways to make a positive social impact by partnering with charities or organizations that everyone can support. For example, you could aim to expand your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives by collaborating with a non-profit organization such as a children’s hospital or a local green movement. Your corporation can also strongly support less contentious social causes such as narrowing the gender pay gap (equal pay for equal work) and prohibiting sexual discrimination.
Without ruffling anyone’s feathers, a firm can have a relevant social message that resonates with its target audience and boosts the brand.