Should brands stay neutral in politically polarized times?

A new study from market research company Ipsos shows a clear path for brands to protect their reputations and avoid the political fray.

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The firm tested well-known brands—including some that have already felt the wrath of President Trump’s tweets—and explored what options companies can take without facing consumer protest. The survey looked at the rising nationalist and populist trends that underlie our political landscape and tested their potential impacts on brands and marketing.

Ipsos Should brands stay neutral in politically polarized times?

The search trend for ‘boycott’ is just one proof point that many are blurring the line between their beliefs and their consumer behaviors. Our survey revealed that a full quarter of Americans have stopped using products or services from a company because of its political leanings or because of protests or boycotts (25 percent). Among the 28 companies we polled on, those with the highest rate of consumer boycotts also experienced the worst stock market performance.

These consumer actions should not surprise companies. Actions by companies, staff and brand ambassadors can take on unintended consequences. Therefore, the need to plan and prepare is key. As seen in the 2016 election, the partisan divide is growing with many Americans lacking confidence in political institutions. With this divide, populism has propelled the long-running decline in trust of the establishments across the private and public sectors. As Americans have turned to social groups and ideology as organizing forces for their identity, partisan identification has exploded.

Companies must understand their risk profile. While conventional wisdom has suggested brands keep their heads down in the past, there is now nowhere to hide from President Trump’s Twitter rants, which often name specific companies. It is increasingly hard to predict what factors will drive a company into the limelight, forcing companies to prepare for this unwanted press before it happens. Brands should also have a complete understanding of their customers so as to avoid acting against their base.

Should brands stay neutral in politically polarized times?

Monitoring social media is necessary as customers become more polarized. Tracking the early conception and spread of brand-political connections can give companies necessary warning for market impacts. Finally, contingency plans to respond to political crises can save companies from going viral for the wrong reasons.

Download the complete study here.


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