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AMiable Solution #427: Do Politics Belong in Your Marketing?


In the past four or five years, more and more companies have been making political stands through their marketing. Should you be? Find out the risks and the precautions you should know before deciding.

Politics have seeped into everything the past few years. Political messages and conflicts dominate the news. They infiltrate and alienate friends and families on social media. They build—and burn—bridges between consumers and producers.


So is it ever a good idea to incorporate political views in your brand’s marketing? As with most things marketing, it depends.


Obviously, if your organization is politically based or directly dependent on the activities of our country’s leadership and regulations, then yes, it makes sense to address political issues in your marketing.


But what about the rest of us? The B2B and B2C companies minding our businesses and going about our days trying to provide real solutions for real problems?


Four years ago, equal rights advocate Serenity Gibbons reported in an Entrepreneur article that politics can be such a turn off that political ads have a negative effect not only on the performance of the politicized ads themselves, but also on the performance of ads that follow them, even if those subsequent ads have nothing to do with politics. “Participants in the study who viewed a non-political, brand ad after a political ad found the brand ad to be 27 percent less appealing, 29 percent less entertaining and 32 percent less relevant,” Gibbons wrote.


But what about now? While traditional thinking has supported the notion that companies who get political in their marketing alienate 50% of a company’s market, one professor at Drexel University thinks that those tides are turning.


“Marketing is concerned with how values are communicated and delivered to people, and that makes it a powerful perspective when it comes to understanding why and how political messages are becoming more common in the business world,” Daniel Korschun, PhD, an associate professor of marketing in the LeBow College of Business, at Drexel told Niki Gianakaris, Drexel’s executive director of media relations.


So what’s the safest way to incorporate your political beliefs into your marketing? Consider these tips, collected from Serenity Gibbons and Rob Mitchell, co-founder of U.K.-based thought leadership company, Longitude:


1. Be positive. According to Mitchell, “Content that just criticises a political decision is unhelpful. Instead, think about the implications of that decision and how they affect your audience. Give them actionable insight that will help them to navigate political change. And if you think the consequences of that change may be negative, then don’t be afraid to say so – but provide guidance on how to mitigate it.”


2. Be sincere. Don’t jump on the bandwagon for the sake of a few minutes of attention or for the sake of capitalizing financially on a current issue or cause. Make sure your interests—and your connection to the issue—are heartfelt, not greedy.


3. Consider both sides. Just because you feel strongly about a cause doesn’t mean that all of your customers do. Create your marketing campaign with people who both agree and disagree with you to ensure a balanced approach that is both credible to supporters and non-offensive to others.


4. Prepare to react. Even if you pick a fairly “safe” cause or issue to support, be prepared for backlash. Have a plan. Know how your company will respond and be prepared to put the plan in action immediately, if necessary.


5. Preach what you practice. If you don’t believe in a cause enough to practice it yourself, don’t use it on a soap box with your customers. Gibbons cites an excellent example in her article, in which she recounts an ad Audi ran during Superbowl 51. In the ad, Audi portrayed a touching scene in which a father tries to decide if he should tell his daughter about the differences in pay for men and women doing the same work, or if he should just let her dream big. The problem? Audi, at the time, had no women on its six-person executive team, and its supervisory board was only 16% women.


Mixing your marketing messages with political ideals is a risky proposition for most brands, but it can be done well and with positive impact with plenty of thought, planning, and most importantly, genuine and selfless purpose.


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