On Politics and Branding: How Values-Based Decisions Affect Brands

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As I've mentioned before, there was a time when brands could avoid the political fray and maintain a bipartisan image. That time is long gone and we have the data to back it up. When it comes to crafting a response to political debate and current events, social intelligence platform Storyful has some insights into what does and doesn't yield success.

In the case of NRA boycotts, Mike Hess, VP of Marketing, Storyful, says the data proves that partisan positions are least likely to stir long term conversation.

“When you take a partisan stance, your brand reputation gets a spike in social conversation for the day, but it doesn't have impact over time,” he said. “When you don't articulate your position clearly, or you take a bipartisan approach, you end up with a situation similar to what happened with FedEx.”

Of course, we saw how well that worked out. They tried to stay bipartisan and that had a backlash. When you look at social conversation data, the conversation around Hertz (who decided to discontinue NRA discounts) spiked for a period of 48 hours but eventually leveled out.

As you can see from the chart above, provided by Storyful, the conversation around FedEx grew and intensified as the days continued. This is in large part due to David Hogg's tweet signaling out FedEx. The socially savvy Parkland teen carried the conversation further.


On the other side of the story is Delta, whose decision to boycott the NRA has landed them in a political battle with the Georgia GOP. While FedEx faced backlash for their murky and questionable response, Delta is in the middle of a total (excuse me) sh*tstorm.

“While we saw the conversation drop for most brands who took an anti-NRA stance, the spike in social response to Delta lingered,” said Adi Cohen, Security Strategist, Storyful. “I'm not sure Delta took into consideration the potential backlash they would receive from activists within the Georgia GOP.”

And though the heat has calmed down, there remains an intense political debate in Georgia. Propelled by tea party member Deborah Dooley, Georgia lawmakers dropped a jet-fuel tax break that Delta wanted from a tax bill they passed in February.

“While [our] intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reverse course,” Bastian said. “Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.”

Let me reiterate the key component of Bastian's statement: Our values are not for sale. According to Storyful, it was this firm statement from the company that calmed the situation down. In other words, Bastian made clear that Delta wasn't going to change their position on NRA discounts despite GOP strong holding.

We're living in an interesting period where brands can't escape the political arena. No matter what position you take, it's going to have an impact on your brand – either in the moment or down the line, or both. But if social media has anything to say about it, you're going to have to pick a side. Might as well side with your brand values.

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