In the past, conventional wisdom dictated that companies should stay far away from politics. Entering the fray and taking a stand on the hot button issues of the day could only serve to alienate part of your audience and give potential customers a reason not to buy your product, right?
Sure. But now, apparently big companies don’t care.
This year CEO’s got off the sidelines and into the action, putting principles before profits. 2017 was the year that corporations fought back, audience be damned.
Patagonia is the latest example. On December 6, Patagonia filed a lawsuit in Washington federal court, urging a judge to block President Trump’s decision to sharply reduce the size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Earlier in the week, the outdoor clothing giant put up an ominous black page on their website declaring: “The President Stole Your Land.”
What makes the Patagonia case particularly significant is what happened next. On December 8, the House Committee on Natural Resources posted a tweet through @naturalresources , in the same black style, which said: “Patagonia is Lying to You.” The organization dismissed Patagonia’s stand as a money grab intended to get “wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco” to buy their products. Then the House Committee on Natural Resources was criticized for using taxpayer dollars to send the tweet.
Regardless of their motives (we believe them), Patagonia wasn’t alone in this year of companies taking a stand.
In May, Tiffany & Co made a social media post on a background colored in their iconic robin’s egg blue, urging President Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris Accord. In October, rapper Eminem threw down the political gauntlet in the freestyle video he created for the BET awards saying “I’m drawing in the sand a line—you’re either for or against” and cursing out fans of his music who support President Trump.
In November, Keurig caused a stir with its decision to pull its advertising from Sean Hannity’s show for the controversial FOX News host’s stance supporting Roy Moore. Loyal Hannity viewers posted video of themselves destroying coffee machines. Hannity initially cheered them on, but then told his viewers to stop destroying their machines after Keurig’s CEO wrote a letter to Keurig employees urging them not to talk about advertising strategies publically.
While it’s up to each company’s leadership to decide the right course of action, here are some things companies can do to increase impact, while maintaining strength of message.
- Think before acting. Don’t instantly react to a situation based on your gut reaction or feedback from a passionate customer. Make sure that the action taken is one company management agrees with, so everyone is on the same page and can present a unified front.
- Have your messaging ready to go ahead of time. Anticipate the reaction and be ready to respond. Don’t be left scrambling for words to describe your response.
- Listen to your audience. Don’t stray too far from your established brand. Patagonia’s move was aligned with its audience, which shares its passion for the great outdoors.
The actions of 2017 have proved that companies can have a powerful voice, if they know how to use it. This is especially true in an age when government support of charities faces such an uncertain future. With proper thought and planning, your company can and should be heard.