Advertising Marketing PR, Social Media

The Best Thing for Brands to Do is Keep Quiet

The last week has been…upsetting for many people. Those who are virulently against the election of Donald Trump have been expressing their rage and disappointment that the country couldn’t get its act together and elect someone who wouldn’t then go ahead and appoint anti-Semites and others to his administration. And on the other side, there are still plenty of people who are calling for Hillary Clinton to be jailed for crimes she’s been investigated of a half-dozen times with no fault found.

The climate has become so charged that some brands have been tempted to weigh in on societal goings-on, with the shoe company New Balance taking some flack for a Tweet that showed support for Trump. This is just the latest instance of brands posting their stands on politics, marriage equality or other topics, something that’s become more and more frequent over the years.

It’s tempting to do so, particularly around issues that are going to resonate particularly well with the target audience. But honestly there’s almost no upside in doing so.

There’s probably been lots of conversations in conference rooms and Slack channels about how to leverage the brand identity to weigh in one way or the other on the results of the election. But as with any political or societal issue, taking a stand will alienate half your audience even as it pulls the other one closer.

That means it comes down to a calculous: If 300 people would ordinarily spend $100 on your products, you’d get $30,000. Turning off half that audience means you’re taking $15,000 off the table. Assume at best that the remaining 150 customers spend 50% more and you’re still only $22,500. Is that worth it?

It might be, but here’s the other question: What happens when the next election or Supreme Court decision or state legislative ruling comes down? Are you content with halving your audience once again? Or will you sit this one out and not share a brand opinion? But you’ve already set the precedent of taking a stand. How do you justify not having an opinion when you’ve already made the opposite clear?

Brands are not people. They do not have opinions or souls. It is impossible for a brand to have an opinion.

What you’re reading when New Balance tweets about Trump or when your favorite grocery store changes its Facebook avatar to a red square with an equals sign is not the opinion of the brand, it’s the opinion of the human beings behind the brand.

Years ago at Comic-Con one of the writers of a comic talked about the responsibility of taking on a character that’s been around for 70+ years. He said it’s an enormous burden because he’s only managing the character for a short part of its overall legacy. There’s been a lot of writers before and there will be a lot of writers after. His job was to tell the stories he wanted to tell while not screwing the character up for the next person.

That’s the position of the brand manager. Just make sure you don’t screw it up for the next person. Taking simplistic stands on current political and other topics risks doing long-term reputational damage to the brand that might not be felt today but which may be felt tomorrow.

Best to stay quiet and keep working to sell your product.

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