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Practical guidance for brands navigating the inescapable political context of the 2020 media landscape.
It’s been almost four years since the 2016 election, and we are gearing up for another 365 days of polls, pundits, and politics. We are all going to witness one of the most polarizing elections in recent memory – and the big question for brands looms – should we get involved? Or maybe a better question – what do we do if we get pulled into getting involved?
Contextual Targeting: Targeting content that deals with specific topics, as determined by a contextual scanning technology.
Whether or not a brand wants to get involved, their advertising will very likely be adjacent to or a simple click away from a political ad or commentary. To put a few numbers to the immense social media conversation that currently is happening and will only grow louder as we near the 2020 election, I like to look at the Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker.
At the time I am writing this – 14 months prior to the 2020 election – last week alone, candidates still seeking their party’s nomination excluding the President generated more than 15 million social engagements (likes, comments, shares, retweets), in what was from a political news perspective just an average week. Assuming a conservative 3 percent social engagement rate, it would have required just over 500 million social impressions to generate this quantity of social reaction in just one week. Political conversation, reaction, and coverage are as inescapable online as they are offline.
So inescapable, in fact, that Twitter is actually banning all political advertising starting in November 2019 – the opposite stance that Facebook has landed on in recent weeks. These changes to Twitter policy will also impact “issue ads.” In what seems to be an impossible goal to police the validity of political advertising, which Facebook seems to believe is not their problem, Twitter is removing themselves from any contention.
If you combine projected political ad spending ($10 billion for 2020, roughly equivalent to the measured media spend of the 11 highest-spending brands combined) and the aforementioned social conversation, it’s easy to see that our screens are already being inundated with political conversation, with no signs of slowing. So, to say that Americans’ screens are going to be flooded with this commentary in 2020 is likely an understatement.
But why does that matter for advertisers?
It matters because being contextually relevant with content online is important (rightfully so) to brands.
Which targeting strategy is “best” can be debated for different brands and their objectives – but with advancements and restrictions in how data can be used to target consumers, contextual targeting offers a way for brands to operate within privacy-friendly practices and to reach consumers at a time and place when they will be more receptive to the message. Brands still very much care about reaching their audience, but the days of blindly following your audience around the Internet wherever they go are coming to an end (if they haven’t already), as the sensitivity around the use of consumer data and the desire to only have ads placed on sites that will not be harmful to your brand are on the rise.
And in 2020, we already know what a massive amount of the context will be centered around, so creating content that is contextually relevant can be predicted, and brands can prepare to actually insert themselves into the conversation in a very natural way if done properly. Not to mention, consumers want brands to take a stand.
Consumers Want Brands to Participate
Not only do brands have the ability to predict contextually relevant content, but consumers want you to create this kind of contextually relevant content.
According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand report, what in 2017 was “The Rise of the Belief-Driven Buyer” in 2018 turned into the “Now Belief-Driven Buyers” with a 13 percent increase year over year in people choosing to switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stance on societal issues.
The study also shows 67 percent of consumers buying a brand for the first time because of a stance on a controversial issue, and 65 percent of consumers not buying a brand because it stayed silent on an issue it had an obligation to address (remember, silence is an answer).
And an Accenture Strategy study further supports this notion, showing that 53 percent of consumers are buying goods and services from companies that reflect their personal values and beliefs, with 62 percent of consumers wanting companies to take a stand on social, cultural, environmental, and political issues close to their hearts.
But here’s the rub. Yes, consumers want to support brands who choose and/or switch to brands who align with their beliefs. But the reality is, when choosing between a consumer boycotting (stopping buying or using products or services because of a political action or stance) vs. buycotting (spending money to support a company because of a political stance), consumers are nearly twice as likely to perform the former.
Very simply, this means that consumers are increasingly less likely to switch or choose to support a brand than they are likely to avoid or boycott a brand, making the decision increasingly risky.
So if a brand decides that this calculated risk is worth it, how do you best set yourself up to become the buycott and not the boycott?
As one would imagine, there is absolutely a right way and a wrong way to get political. And despite the overuse of this buzzword, authenticity matters. The same Accenture Strategy report put a few data points to this.
Consumers may want brands to take a stand but not any stand. And with the 21st century ability to fact-check, brands will find themselves in hot water very quickly if the stance taken is not authentic. Let’s look at how that can manifest in the real world.
Stephen Ross, Owner of Equinox and SoulCycle and His Support of Donald Trump
When it was discovered that he would be hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump, social media rang with calls for boycotts from celebrities and customers of the popular workout companies. Supporting an administration that is viewed as anti-LGBTQ now calls Equinox’s LGBTQAlphabet spot and SoulCycle’s pride fashion collection into serious question. Not to mention that we very well might see the business take a hit when it comes time to renew gym memberships at the beginning of the next year.
Popular comedian (with 2.2 million Twitter followers) Billy Eichner tweeted:
Just contacted @Equinox to cancel my membership after many years. Money talks, especially with these monsters. If it’s too inconvenient for u to trade one LUXURY GYM for another, then you should be ashamed. (No disrespect to the many wonderful employees at my local Equinox). Bye!
There are a handful of billionaires who own everything, and many support Trump. Practically speaking, it’s probably impossible to completely avoid them. But considering @Equinox’s clientele and how they’ve pandered to us, this one feels particularly hypocritical and shameful.
The bolded part of that statement from Eichner rings loud. Equinox and SoulCycle are now being viewed as inauthentic – they said they cared about those communities, but the actions of their leadership are what people are remembering.
In response, Harvey Spevak, executive chairman of Equinox, attempted to distance the companies from Stephen Ross, noting:
As is consistent with our policies, no company profits are used to fund politicians. We are committed to all our members and the communities we live in. We believe in tolerance and equality, and will always stay true to those values.
The NBA and Their Lack of Support for Daryl Morey (and His Support for the Hong Kong Protests)
To quickly set this up, in 2002 the Houston Rockets drafted Yao Ming (from China) as the No. 1 overall draft pick. He was the first-ever foreign-born player to be drafted first overall who did not play in the NCAA. This was a big deal. Fast forward to 2006, and the best-selling basketball jersey in all of China was Tracy McGrady – star player for the Houston Rockets. Fast forward to 2019, and the Rockets are still the second most popular team in China. The people of China love the Houston Rockets.
So Morey’s somewhat seemingly innocuous support of Hong Kong via a tweet that has since been deleted (it said, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”) is more than just “any NBA team GM” saying those things. It’s the GM of the Houston Rockets saying them.
The NBA put out a message calling Morey’s tweet “regrettable” and saying his support “does not represent the Rockets or the NBA.”
Morey followed the apology tour with one of his own, stating:
I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rocket[’s] fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided, and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.
This one gets really interesting when you factor in that the NBA somehow got Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke to agree on something.
The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment. https://t.co/bbiwCBTwc1
— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 7, 2019
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 7, 2019
Both politicians (and many Americans) have shown support for Morey and are viewing the NBA’s response as prioritizing money over human rights. The NBA, being the organization that has been most outspoken of all the major American sports leagues when it comes to social justice issues, now is coming off as inauthentic, only showing support for social justice issues when it pleases them or when it is not going to have the monetary risk that supporting the democracy of Hong Kong will.
These are just two of many examples of prominent leaders in a company taking a stance in their personal life that unintentionally impacts the entire brand. The common theme? Inauthenticity. The same filter goes for when brands make a calculated decision to play in the space. Some have definitely missed the authenticity bar, like Pepsi and Kendall Jenner attempting to cure racism by handing a riot cop a can of soda, but let’s take a look at how a couple of brands have actually been very successful at this.
NIKE – Colin Kaepernick “Dream Crazy”
Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign was released during the beginning of the 2018 NFL season (hello, contextual relevancy) starring ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had been under scrutiny for his decision in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality. His decision created a massive divide in the NFL fanbase, as many players followed suit by kneeling during the national anthem, much to the dismay of many NFL owners and viewers and much to the respect of many others.
Colin Kaepernick doesn’t hold back pic.twitter.com/bG9ETwgayL
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 27, 2016
— Kate Logan (@K8Logan) September 6, 2018
White people: “Black people should protest peacefully!”
*Black person sits quietly during national anthem*
White people: “No not like that.”
— Ms. Charlotte’s Web 🕸 (@charlotteirene8) August 31, 2016
The campaign objective was summarized ahead of the 2018 Cannes Lions competition:
The idea was to harness the original sense of rebellious self-belief behind “Just Do It” and show how athletes today were using that spirit to move sport forward, and the world with it. And no one seemed to personify that idea better than Colin Kaepernick, who had used his platform to stand up for his beliefs and paid for it with his career.
The campaign began with a simple tweet from Kaepernick, followed by a two-minute film during the opening of the NFL season.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
The result saw Nike suffer a 3.16 percent drop in stock price in the short term following this advertising. It created a divide within their customer base, as evidenced by virtually any social media platform in the weeks following the advertising. But the end result saw stock prices rise to an all-time high and created $6 billion in brand value, making it the most successful campaign in the brand’s long history.
For Nike, this…
Looks like he’s never used scissors before.
— Rob Tannenbaum (@tannenbaumr) September 3, 2018
Turned into this…
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) September 3, 2018
Stop using the troops as an excuse to burn your Nike shit. I’m not your scapegoat. I’m gonna sit over here and continue to buy my Nike stuff, they give military a discount 🤙🏼#NikeBoycott
— Katlin Bellaw (@KatlinBellaw) September 4, 2018
Nike is definitely on the right side of history by having Colin Kaepernick in their new #JustDoIt campaign. Nike has made BILLIONS of dollars off the image of Black athletes, and it’s only right for them to show support for Black athletes who stand up for justice
— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) September 4, 2018
Despite not being a perfect company by any stretch of the imagination, Nike has stood for social justice issues in their advertising for much of their history. And Nike even kept Colin Kaepernick on when he was not on the football field in 2017 and 2018, making this stance no doubt authentic.
Last year, when Morning Consult asked Americans to think of an ethical company and name the first one that came to mind, Nike was the 26th most frequently mentioned brand. When they asked again this year, after the “Dream Crazy” campaign they were the fourth most mentioned.
And if there is worry about taking a stance on a specific political issue, regardless of authenticity, there might even be another option. Here at The Richards Group, one of our clients did something interesting leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl.
Jeep – More Than Words
Jeep created an ad that was relevant and authentic but did not make any significant amount of people angry (beyond maybe the far right and far left).
Jeep is rooted in an American heritage that they strongly believe in. How did they intersect what was going on in the NFL (à la Colin Kaepernick) authentically with the heritage of their brand? They created a visual way to see the national anthem that highlighted people of all different backgrounds, genders, and cultures.
Take a look:
One might say the ad leans to the right side of the aisle, but the reality is, it did not take a stance. It did not say you should not kneel during the national anthem; it did not say you should kneel during the national anthem; it said, however, that we are all in this together.
The statistics back up the success of this piece of creative:
The spot had more views (106 million) on YouTube/Facebook than any other during the 2018 Super Bowl.
Sentiment was nearly unanimously positive on YouTube (99 percent).
Traffic to the Jeep website increased 30 percent.
From January 30 to February 6, there were 123,059 mentions of Jeep on social media, with about 17 percent of this conversation directly tied to the commercial.
Deciding if a brand should get involved in the political arena in 2020 is not an easy decision. But thinking through these questions can help brands get to the most educated decision possible. Some of these were discussed in this trend and some of them we did not get to, but they are great starting points:
Is the stance you are taking authentic? It seems obvious, but it really is the first step in deciding if there is an issue that a brand has ground to stand on. If your brand has historically donated to or supported anti-LGBTQ agendas – maybe don’t change your logo for Pride Month.
Can you be contextually relevant? The odds are very high in 2020. And if a political issue arises that supremely interconnects with your brand (e.g., Colin Kaepernick and Nike) – even better.
Do an analysis of the company leadership to ensure that personal leanings of public-facing, important members of the company will not jeopardize the stance.
Does your industry lean toward participating in this space, making entry a bit less daunting? We have seen the personal care industry discuss somewhat political and social topics for quite some time, with Dove clearly being a shining example. And this is just one man’s opinion, but Harry’s did a lot better job of this than Gillette in the past couple of years. I suppose YouTube sentiment would back this up, as Harry’s received 94 percent positive remarks while Gillette only has 35 percent.
It would be simply untrue to say that every brand should get political in 2020, but if you can check the boxes, it might just be worth the risk.
Categories: 2020 Digital Trends