Under Trump, Politics and Corporations Intertwine

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Companies are being called to task on their political positions in these times of intense division. But is it enough to affect the bottom line?

New Balance, the popular sneaker company, finds itself in an interesting position amid an American population that is distinctly, profoundly out of balance. An executive at the company came under fire after making statements in support of President-elect Donald Trump, specifically Trump's stances on trade and domestic business.

Taking the quote as a complete endorsement of the President-elect, many Trump supporters, including members of the alt-right, heralded New Balance the official shoe for white people. The rapidly mobilizing left who oppose Trump responded with a vicious backlash against the brand, burning sneakers, rallying behind hashtags, and adding the brand to a growing list of companies to boycott because of their existing business relations with Trump or his family.  

For corporations, the next four years will be a delicate balancing act. Employees and customers who oppose Trump's positions will want the company to speak out, while Trump supporters will be watching to boycott or protest.

New Balance tried to stem the tide of bad PR by denouncing its new racists fans' endorsement, but ultimately still finds itself on a living document of brands that Trump supporters are either supporting or boycotting.

GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney responded to the election with an email to employees. The subject line read:So... that happened... what's next?

Maloney wrote in the email:

Further I absolutely reject the nationalist, anti-immigrant and hateful politics of Donald Trump and will work to shield our community from this movement as best as I can. As we all try to understand what this vote means to us, I want to affirm to anyone on our team that is scared or feels personally exposed, that I and everyone else here at Grubhub will fight for your dignity and your right to make a better life for yourself and your family here in the United States.

If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here.

A charitable reading of it is that he said no one who is nationalistic and anti-immigrant should work at GrubHub, but the conservative sphere read it as Donald Trump supporters should quit.

Those supporters added GrubHub to a list on the subreddit r/TheDonald, which features companies, organizations, and individuals Trump supporters should embrace and those they should boycott. Some are listed for isolated events.Taco Bell is there solely because one location fired an employee who refused to serve cops in July.

Others on the support tally include Home Depot, NASCAR, and WWE. Trump supporters are urged to boycott Netflix, Oreos, and GrubHub for various reasons.

But the list is ever changing, evidenced by the chats happening below. Trump supporters are mixed on whether to boycott all supporters of liberal causes and the Clinton campaign, or just those who have come out against Trump.

The New Balance situation forecasts the role that politics will come to play in the overall image of a brand during Trump's tenure as president. Message and branding are becoming intertwined with politics. With these lists, we're beginning to see the stratification of not only the American population as a whole, but the consumer pool as well.

Another element that coarsened democracy, fake news stories, will impact brands as well.

Trump supporters have threatened a boycott of Pepsi after reports circulated that its CEO, Indra Nooyi, claimed Trump supports could take their business elsewhere. The quote was utterly and completely fabricated. Despite that, PepsiCo is still on the boycott list because Nooyi said the following at a conference:

"I had to answer a lot of questions, from my daughters, from my employees, they were all in mourning," Nooyi said. She called for unity.

"The election is over. I think we should mourn, for those of us who supported the other side. But we have to come together and life has to go on," she said.

Brands in Trump's America must now deal with consumers who came to expect some level of political engagement from companies during the Obama years. These expectations render brand silence a near impossibility.

Trump supporters are either an extension of — or taking cues — from the gamergate movement, which eventually morphed into conservatives pressuring companies to pull advertisements from websites with whose opinion they disagreed.

Protesters shared email templates and tactics to pressure brands like Adobe, Intel, and others to pull advertising from sites that ran anti-gamergate material. Indeed, the organized wrath of gamergate, whether it was righteous fury or not, was very much the genesis of the collapse of Gawker. While Donald Trump surrogate Peter Thiel finished the job, Gawker was weakened from the constant attacks during Gamergate.

With two sides so passionate about their support or opposition to President-elect Trump, it will be difficult to stay silent. We will be tracking the challenges brands face in this new climate through a series of pieces.

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