The Underblog

Risky business for brands that get political in marketing and advertising


In an era when much of the American public is increasingly divided by politics, some businesses have put their brands in peril by attempting to find commonality in political or social events.

With viral protests against cases of sexual harassment, racism and anti-equality fueling the media discussion on the web and over the airwaves lately, marketing and advertising agencies must help businesses protect their own brands from being caught up in the snowball of negative media commentary.

Some companies have incorporated politics with critical success rather than pushback. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has famously built advertising campaigns focused on humanity and diversity, including its iconic “Hilltop” commercial from 1971 and its Super Bowl companion “The Wonder of Us” earlier this year.

There have been several recent examples, however, of brands that entered the political fray with severe turbulence. Such cases include:

  • Pepsi’s campaign featuring reality TV star Kendall Jenner who offers a can of the soda to a police officer monitoring a public protest. The company pulled the ad after many critics suggested it lessened the importance of protests against police brutality, which was hotly debated at the time.
  • Uber received backlash when the company continued to operate while New York City taxi drivers protested by refusing pickups after President Donald Trump ordered an immigration ban in January 2017. Public pressure quickly mounted against Uber, followed by protests on social media suggesting its customers should “#DeleteUber.” Meanwhile, Uber’s biggest competitor, Lyft, said it would donate $1 million to the ACLU in response to the ban.
  • In November 2017, Papa John’s founder John Schattner questioned the leadership of the NFL over the league’s response to players’ protests during the national anthem. Soon after the Super Bowl, the NFL named Pizza Hut its new pizza sponsor.

Despite the consequences of these decisions, a Sprout Social study revealed that 66 percent of consumers, regardless of political affiliation, believe that brands should become more politically active. The study also said more than half of all consumers think such activity should take place on social media.

So how should agencies help businesses protect their brands when politics bleeds into their advertising and marketing campaigns? Before showing the world where the brand stands on a particular issue, businesses should consider these measures:

Be relevant but use caution. Your brand should be authentic in what it stands for when it comes to political issues. But those issues should directly affect the business. Don’t post about an issue on your brand’s social media channels just on a whim. Take a firm stance if it has an impact on your business and your customer base.

Act like a journalist. There are few ways to cause more trouble for your brand than to lie. If you take a stance with your brand and present evidence to support your position on an issue, then you have an obligation to fact-check before you share your message with your audience. If you risk lying, then you risk your brand become untrustworthy, and that may mark the end of your business.

Know who is receiving your message. If you know your brand’s customers well, then you’ll likely know the type of commentary that will garner the most positive response. Pay attention to how your customer base feels about or discusses an issue. Finding the loudest opinion may help you shape and deliver your brand commentary to an audience.

Ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” You can’t please everyone. By taking a stance on a political or cultural issue, you’re choosing to risk a negative reaction. Some customers and followers may decide to stop paying attention to your brand for a long time, if not forever. On the other hand, it’s possible your brand may see a net gain of customers and followers because of the position it takes on a public issue. Decide how much emphasis you want to put on politics in your messaging and be willing to accept some losses in response.

Have a sounding board. Brands can’t trust that they alone know best. Agencies that specialize in advertising, marketing and public relations have a unique ability to serve as a sounding board for ideas. Hiring such a service can help preserve a brand’s strength and integrity at times when it becomes part of a public conversation.

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Never doubt the value of a social media audit

Is your brand reaching the key performance indicators you first established when you began on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? Is it reaching your target audience through the right channels? Are your followers becoming customers?

If you’re finding a lack of reward from your investments in social media, then maybe its time to re-evaluate how you’re using it to strengthen your brand and business.

Approach your brand’s social media audit step-by-step in the following order:

Inventory. Does your target audience for each platform actually align with the general demographics of users on those platforms? The Pew Research Center provides helpful data on the latest social media trends in users by age and gender. Use this information to pair your brand’s messaging with the platform used most frequently used by your target audience.

Policy. Who creates your brand’s narrative? Who is tasked with posting messages on each channel? When do you respond to users who tag your brand in their own social media posts? How do you track KPIs? Your brand’s voice will likely be loudest on social media, so planning ahead and answering these kinds of questions are key to ensuring brand consistency.

Activity. Examine information that each platform provides about your social media channels such as audience size, user age and gender, geographical location and engagement frequency. If you have social influencers pushing your brand, then determine the channels where they spend the most time and energy. Determine if visitors to your brand’s social channels prefer watching videos, listening to podcasts, or reading blogs. Find the messages for your brand that draw the largest positive responses and repurpose them to reinforce your narrative.

Compare. Regularly monitor the messaging your competitors are building for their brands as you would your own. Learn who the closest competitors are to your brand and how they’re sharing messages on social media channels, including the keywords and hashtags they most frequently use. Observe follower growth and impressions.

Analyze. If you follow the process above, then you will find all the pieces you need to reveal what the puzzle shows: the current state of your brand and the possibilities for the future. Set new goals for your KPIs, establish a target date to reach those goals, then perform another audit. You’ll see whether or not your brand is on the right track for success.

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4 strategies to improve customer engagement and meet consumer expectations

Create multiple buying outlets. Ordering a product online and finding out it’s not in a local store can leave customers feeling burned. Instead, retailers can create better transparency for customers. Also, real-time tracking of in-store inventory that customers can view on their smartphone can encourage users to buy from their phone and pick up in-store, creating foot traffic that can lead to more business for the brick-and-mortar store.

Offer real-time promotions. Retailers with apps or e-newsletters can notify customers through their smartphones about in-store promos upon their arrival to a store, or after making a previous purchase. An app can also be an easy-to-use resource readily available on a consumer’s phone so they can be accustomed to browsing through the brand’s app instead of immediately leaping to Amazon or another competitor to make a purchase.

Let customers design their own profiles. When retailers offer suggestions on what to buy based on past purchases, they’re blocking control by the customer. According to a report by Accenture, 75 percent of consumers say they would find it valuable to create and manage a “living profile” used to better curate experiences and make recommendations.

Don’t be overbearing toward customers. According to the same Accenture report, 41 percent of consumers find it creepy when they receive a text from a brand or retailer as they walk by a physical store. Yes, the Internet of Things can help businesses reach out and touch someone, but that can be received in a negative manner that leads to customers becoming former customers. The same outcome may occur if internet cookies allow social sites to advertise items you’ve previously browsed on the brand’s website.

Try establishing a modest schedule of promos and special offers, and extend a polite apology message for customers who express a poor shopping experience online or in-store. Regardless of age, a customer will appreciate the personal care and develop a positive association that will encourage them to stick with the brand.

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Advertising personalization must reach all generations of consumers

Advertising personalization must reach all generations of consumers

There is a shift happening right now in how consumers behave when it comes to retail shopping. Technology has helped millennials transform the purchasing journey from the analog experience shared by Generation X members and Baby Boomers alike to the real-time, instant buying power used by millennials.

And now thanks to the Internet of Things, millennials’ expectations are changing. They want to buy, but their commitment to buy and even their preferred shopping method varies based on the advertising used to attract them.

For example, Marketing Land explains millennials don’t concern themselves with checkout wait times, inventory availability and easy return policies at retailers when compared to older shoppers. Younger consumers look for ways to bypass the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. The aforementioned article details a Euclid study of 1,500 U.S. consumers, 47 percent of those surveyed whom identify as a millennial buy online, then pick up at the store.

While this new generation of shoppers trends toward shortcuts in the buyer journey, they’re also looking for knowledge about products they want to own through a social dialogue. The Euclid survey found that most millennials rely on Facebook and email marketing to communicate with brands, but they keep influenced to buy by interacting with knowledgeable sales staff in the store.

Because the information retrieved through tech or socializing can push them to buy and buy often, younger generations are quickly becoming the largest general customer base. But businesses, marketers and ad agencies can’t forget about Gen Xers and Baby Boomers anytime soon. They must find the right balance in establishing a traditional shopping experience and a digital journey rooted in personalization.

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