Everybody is talking about Nike right now. Not because they launched a revolutionary new trainer or a sensational winter collection – it’s because of their latest campaign, featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, that touches on the controversy of NFL players protesting against racial inequality by kneeling during the U.S. national anthem. The campaign has triggered debate, with some people in praise of Nike’s ‘brave’ decision whilst others have called for a boycott of their products. Even U.S. president Donald Trump has weighed in by tweeting: “What was Nike thinking?”.
I can tell you what Nike were thinking, they were thinking business. Standing up for what they believe in brought them a 31% rise in online sales over the Bank Holiday weekend of the campaign launch.
More and more brands, like Nike, are taking a side in today’s highly polarised society – not only by expressing their thoughts in parliamentary hearings or on government industry panels, but through their very own marketing efforts. Some communicate their beliefs very bluntly, like the American outdoor clothing brand Patagonia who protested against the decision to reduce the size of two American National Parks in 2017 by re-directing customers to a landing page that displayed the message “The President Stole Your Land”; other brands convey their views in a more subtle way, such as IKEA, who regularly feature queer families in their furniture catalogues.
I think it’s very important that brands do this, that they take a side – not only because I’m personally convinced that every member of today’s society needs to stand up for what they believe in, but because we live in an age in which customers are seeking trustworthy and authentic brands, who honestly represent and can be an extension of the customers own personal beliefs. In consider brands to have more to lose by remaining silent, than they do if they speak out.
And research supports this – especially when considering future generations of customers. A 2017 study by Weber Shandwick showed that 47% of millennials believe that CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to our society; and 51% of those surveyed said that they’re actually more likely to buy products from companies that have activist CEOs. In addition, according to research from Sprout Social, two thirds of all consumers say that it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.
Of course, if brands decide to speak out and to take a side, they need to make sure that it corresponds with their overall brand messaging, their beliefs, their tone, their products - and of course their provenance. But in the end it’s all about trustworthiness – and when a brand suddenly (and randomly!) decides to campaign for an issue that’s not really connected to their line of business or their former actions, consumers will quickly pick up on it as fake.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes ‘politicised’ brands are only viewed as such because our society and the things we do every day are generally becoming more and more political. Heck, sometimes even using the wrong emoji can suddenly trigger a political debate. But is this really how it should be? Sure, when a brand such as Patagonia takes a stand against a sitting U.S. president, it’s clear that they’re actively choosing to engage in politics. But is it political to feature a lesbian couple with their two kids in a print advert? Is it political to show a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and cultures in a TV ad? Is it political to bear the rainbow flag on a brand’s Facebook profile pic during Pride Month?
For some people it surely is, but I think it’s simply a sign that brands are becoming more and more aware of what societies of the 21st century look like; and that these diverse societies are actually their customer base – so it would obviously be very smart of them to represent all their customers in their marketing efforts.
Weber Shandwick & KRC Research: CEO Activism in 2017 – High Noon in the C-Suite
Sprout Social: Championing Change in the Age of Social Media
Brands have more to lose
by remaining silent,
than they do
if they speak out.