Taking a Stand: Why Brands Should Stay in Their Lane

By Hinda Mitchell
January 18, 2021

Originally published by MediaPost.

Across the nation, brands are taking a stand and issuing very public responses following the crisis at the U.S. Capitol. An unprecedented number of leading business groups and CEOs released strongly worded rebukes of the riots. With the continuing disruption in our nation, brands should proceed with caution.

Brand engagement on divisive political issues is fraught with risk. Do not pass go unless you are prepared for the consequences. Evaluating the risk and benefit of engaging will be a decisive move for your brand reputation.

It is important for smart marketers to ask: One, is this a place where your brand should have a role? Two, is it consistent with how your brand has engaged in the past? Three, what will all your stakeholders think?

Determining the answers starts with more questions: Is this the lane in which the brand belongs? Is this someplace where the brand has expertise or relevant things to say? Is the brand deeply rooted in activism and issues of social justice? If the answers are no, then a brand should think seriously about avoiding involvement.

While staying in the right lane is a straightforward and effective brand strategy, one national pizza brand recently tested this theory. In a national news release issued over PR Newswire (and later removed), Dallas-based Pizza Inn jumped into the chaos with claims of voter fraud and a call for an election commission. If your brand is pizza, you are likely not a Constitutional scholar with the expertise to weigh in on the Electoral College, but hopefully your team can produce an exceptional pie.

All this is particularly difficult, especially in a nation where red and blue defines us, where keyboard courage on social media abounds, and where about half the nation generally disagrees with the other half on politics, according to polling data.

As you think about your customers, your employees, your industry, and the community around you, where are they on these issues? How do they align? Is your position likely to encourage them and build credibility for your brand, or is it more likely to create harm and to place your brand reputation at risk?

Let your brand values be a guide -- and avoid taking a position that strays from stakeholder expectations. Do the principles of how you operate your business, the values that you hold for your team, and your integrity in company practices match your brand position? If your brand weighs in, will your stakeholders welcome or wonder?

If the position taken generates conflict, will your brand values hold you up and provide the reputational capital necessary to respond? It is important to remember that our digital universe has put consumers in the driver’s seat of aligning behind brands that reflect their values.

The bottom line is this: If you are a brand that has generally avoided getting involved in politics or the issues of the world at large, now is not the time to start. In this “omni-crisis” where public health, social justice and politics have converged, the probably of brand implosion is higher than ever before, and that’s just not a risk worth taking.