lifestyle PR + digital media

“The revolution will be branded”: When brands take sides

September 14, 2018

---Oh the times, they are a-changin'---

The times, indeed, are a-changin’, in politics and in civic life and conversation—and, of course, in the way brands are talking to consumers. (Forgive your writer here; she realizes this lede is a bit of a stretch.)

But, as cultural conversation shifts and more people wear their politics on their sleeves, we as marketers find ourselves coming back to a familiar question: should brands take stands? Just as the public discourse around politics and the notion of ‘taking sides’ has evolved, so have our views on whether or not brands should take stands on political issues.

It’s been back in the national conversation since Nike revealed its partnership with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player who brought attention to police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem. And Levi Strauss also recently announced that it would donate $1 million to to anti-gun violence initiatives.

These are the latest in a string of brands taking political stands. And it’s indicative of what the modern consumer looks for when deciding which brands to support.

According to a January AdWeek article, a majority—about two-thirds—of consumers want brands to take a stand on political and social issues. That’s a shift from a 2017 study, which found that the payoffs weren’t worth the risk.

But as the political tides are changing—marches are the new brunch, as several signs read at a recent Denver rally—so, too, are consumers looking for the brands with whom they spend their money to better match their values.

Consumers—led by Millennials and Gen Zers—want to put their money in the hands of brands who are paying their employees well and who aren’t ravaging the earth to produce their product.

(Though Nike’s and Levi’s recent moves have been around social issues, a 2015 Nielsen study showed that 66% of consumers—and 73% of millennials—are willing to pay more for a product that is made sustainably. AKA: eco-conscious brands are on the up and up.)

Nike’s Kaepernick campaign proved, too, that there’s good money in taking a stand (which the behemoth brand already knew): Nike’s stock price hit an all-time high on September 13.

We won’t opine here as to whether having the support of a major brand is good for a movement, but we highly recommend you read this piece by Dave Zirin for more thoughts on that. But we will say this: even for brands that aren’t Nike-sized, taking a stand can be good for business.