Backlash Marketing: Mixing Business with Politics

Donald Trump has wasted no time implementing a string of controversial policies.

The newly elected prez – the political embodiment of Marmite – has incensed a vast majority of the population with his bull in a China shop tactics.

As a result, impassioned protests and anti-Trump rallies have taken place around the world with many calling on his cabinet to build bridges, not walls.

But what’s interesting is the response from some of the world’s most powerful brands and CEOs. Many have chosen to get behind these demonstrations, giving their full backing and support with Instagram posts and tweets aplenty.

From Silicon Valley to Florence, Mark Zuckerberg, Gucci, Elon Musk, Periscope, and Nike are just a few of many global corporations and CEOs to have spoken out against Trump.

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‘Backlash marketing’ is the term being used to describe this new wave of brand activism, but what’s the point of it all? Is this merely an exercise in corporate social responsibility or does it go deeper?

Have brands heeded Tinder founder Sean Rad’s cry to the world’s tech giants and made it their “responsibility to do good”? Or is this simply a case of clever marketing?

Brands are making people feel by speaking out

Traditionally, most brands have preferred to stay impartial on matters of political debate – after all, nobody likes a preacher!

But can anyone afford NOT to have an opinion in 2017? For the first time in our memory, brands have been prepared to stand up and polarise opinion.

Cory Seamer / Shutterstock, Inc.

This was particularly evident during the international women’s marches against Trump, which saw brands using the #WhyWeMarch hashtag as a show of solidarity.

Gaynor Orvis, our PR manager, has kept a close eye on these marches and the response on social media.

“Brands declarations of disgust at Trump’s behaviour appears to signal a change. It seems brands no longer want to be faceless ghost ships without bias or voice, they are stepping out of the darkness and speaking up,” she explains.

“Coined by some as ‘backlash marketing’, brands are cottoning on to the fact that tapping into the social conversation and actually showing emotion can help them connect with consumers on a deeper level.”

The millennial effect

This emotional approach to social media has certainly struck a chord with millennials, the ‘hero generation’, who are prepared to stand up for philanthropic causes.

As a result of going deeper than engagement, many brands have seen their share of voice increased on social media. In turn, this has earned them kudos among the younger generations.

You could call it a sign of the times; social media has enabled us to forge meaningful relationships and connections with brands online.

There will be backlash

But not everyone agrees with this current trend. Rob Sullivan, our data analyst, feels many do not have a moral obligation to comment on wider political matters.

“Take a stand if you want, as an individual, but don’t drag your business into it… unless you know your audience inside and out,” he says.

shutterstock_568173265DrimaFilm / Shutterstock, Inc.

We used the Crimson Hexagon social listening tool to track the sentiment around several tweets from leading brands and CEOs who have tweeted about Trump.

The below graphs relate to the sentiment surrounding Tesla CEO Elon Musk after he tweeted his opposition to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’.

We can see that engagement figures soared on the 29th, compared to the 28th and 31st. Essentially, this was the day Elon Musk made the biggest impact on social.

The vast majority of tweets, replies and comments aimed at Musk on this day have been categorised as carrying a negative sentiment (red). The grey area represents indifference and all positive sentiment is seen in green.

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In effect, criticism is inevitable. But brands shouldn’t worry about ruffling too many feathers. Like Musk, many are making people feel either way and that is the key to success on social.

But if you are going to speak out, here’s how to do it

Suddenly finding a very public voice for your brand can be tricky, but the key is honesty. What does your brand really stand for and what is its place in the modern world?

“Brands should not be afraid to make strong statements about their identity as this helps show transparency and consumers will appreciate this,” adds Gaynor.

“But if you are going to speak up about hard-hitting political issues such as Trump’s presidency, then really speak up!”

In a populist movement, consumers will be looking for brands that can offer a fresh perspective – it is the depth of beliefs and values that come together all under one roof that makes a movement so powerful.

So, should more brands mix business with politics? We’ll let you decide…

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