A New Era For Brands And Political Issues

05.19.2017 | Kylee Brown

It has been a long-standing tradition for major brands and companies to avoid commenting on major social and political issues to avoid alienating their customer base. But times are changing. In today’s volatile political climate, there has been a push for brands to take a stand. From LGBT rights to immigration, social justice issues are front and center, and how a company reacts to new legislation can have a substantial impact on its brand image. As an increasing number of companies begin to openly take a stance on controversial topics, it is becoming apparent that staying silent on issues can be just as dangerous as speaking up.

Over the last year there have been a number of companies that have failed to meet customer expectations on social issues. One that stands out is Uber, whose reaction to Trump’s immigration ban caused a huge number of customers to delete the app and switch to Lyft. However, this loss of customer base didn’t happen because Uber took a definitive stance for or against the executive order, but it happened because they failed to take a stance at all. In the midst of influential brands like Lyft, Ford and Netflix speaking out openly against the order, some even calling it un-American, Uber’s CEO remained relatively quiet simply stating that he would bring up the issue at President Trump’s business advisory group meeting.

For a company that has labeled itself as progressive and bold, its silence turned a lot of customers to its competitor. In an attempt to repair the damage, Uber made a statement calling the order unjust, but it was too little too late. Uber illustrated just how dangerous inaction can be in a world that is striving for social justice.

In many instances, big brands taking a stand on social issues have had a positive impact on social change. Brands are becoming increasingly aware of how much influence they can have, and that they have the power to make a real difference. We witnessed this last year when North Carolina passed a law that would allow discrimination against the LGBT community in public accommodations and housing. Multiple companies rose up in opposition including the NBA, PayPal and Google. The NBA went so far as to move the NBA All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans in opposition to the law.

Many see this sort of political activism as a good thing, and while the bill in North Carolina passed, politicians and social activists are already working on a repeal due to the repercussions. This goes to show how companies’ stances can impact state and local government legislation,, which can be just as important as national regulations.

Choosing a side can have consequences. In such a politically charged climate, no matter what stance you choose, there is the potential for opposition. However, recent research has shown that the majority of people feel that not taking a stance is worse. A national survey found that 78 percent of adults across multiple political positions believe that companies should take action on political issues. This is a huge shift from past beliefs that business and politics should remain separate. Stakeholders and consumers are continuously pressuring CEOs to speak out on issues and to communicate where their company stands.

Keeping a company’s political stance in line with its core values is also important. If a company champions ingenuity and inclusion, and then declares that they are not going to support environmental regulation, it will create confusion about what the company truly stands for. It is easier to create a narrative that makes sense if the issue hits close to home for your brand. For example, many tech companies were openly opposed to Trump’s executive travel-ban because they recruit a lot of talent from the countries that were being affected, making the issue extremely personal to the current employees.

It would be difficult to take a stance on every single social issue that will arise, but it is important to speak out on topics that are important to you and your brand. Inaction now is no longer an option, and it shouldn’t be. The power that brands have as a social-change driver should not be downplayed, as it could have a lasting positive impact on society. For the foreseeable future, companies will continue to speak out on controversial issues and – hopefully – change the world for the better.


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Filed under: COMMUNIQUÉ PR, Crisis Communications, Media, Planning, Positioning, PR trends, Reputation Management, Social media, Strategy

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