There are times over the last few years where it has felt difficult for anyone to be on the fence politically. Indeed, there are people who would argue that if you don’t “do” politics, you don’t really do anything.
The problem is that the world has never known a time like this politically, with so many countries polarised by two entirely different political directions. Take Brexit, for example, where anyone expressing a strong view one way or another to a roomful of people is likely to upset half of them. The UK General Election last year saw voters presented with an unusually clear left-wing or right-wing choice from the main two parties, and I haven’t even mentioned what’s going on in the US right now!
Being partisan in your posts risks alienating a sizable chunk of your audience, but even political neutrality backfired for clothing retailer Gap yesterday. As votes were being counted on the US presidential election, the company’s Twitter team tried to introduce a bit of political harmony by tweeting a video of a half red, half blue hoodie with the caption:
“The one thing we know, is that together, we can move forward.”
Well-intended it may have been, but with the election being such a bitter and divisive contest that looks likely to lead to lawsuits and protests, the tweet was widely seen as naïve and ill-judged. Gap deleted the tweet within hours, admitting it was “too soon” to have posted it, but it was captured in screenshots by other Twitter users.
So, since that didn’t work, is it better to pick a side and stick with it, and thus strengthen your bond with those who identify with this ideology, even if it means losing those who don’t? There are certainly companies who do this, and it’s probably fair to say that when they do, it’s usually a liberal and left-leaning viewpoint they express, perhaps because it ties in with qualities like social justice and corporate responsibility.
Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s, for example, has a history rooted in political activism. Its Twitter page has a pinned tweet tackling white supremacy, it has regularly tweeted the phrase “Count Every Vote” over the last couple of days (though stopped short of explicitly promoting the Democratic Party) and its UK account took aim at Home Secretary Priti Patel in August on asylum seekers and climate change.
Hey @PritiPatel we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture. We pulled together a thread for you..
— Ben & Jerry's UK 🧡 (@benandjerrysUK) August 11, 2020
Sometimes, companies’ political stances are more tongue-in-cheek. Scottish craft brewery Brewdog released its ‘Barnyard Castle Eye Test’ beer earlier this year in response to government advisor Dominic Cummings’ controversial 520-mile round trip in the height of lockdown, using paid ads on social media to reach an audience who might relate to the humour.
Right-wing views are somewhat rarer in business, but pub chain JD Wetherspoon and its outspoken chairman Tim Martin is one firm known to express them. In 2018, Martin took the unusual step of taking the chain off social media, but inside the pubs themselves, Wetherspoon shareholders have expressed concern about pro-Brexit material being displayed, and this summer, the chain lauded “legend” Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak with its “Sunak’s Specials” deals.
We can see, therefore, that political marketing is not unheard of in business and can be part of a brand’s identity. If you are to use it though, it comes down to defining your target persona clearly and making sure that customer is in keeping with the vision you wish to portray. It’s easy to make clumsy generalisations, such as that millennials are liberal, people with university degrees lean to the left and the working-class support Brexit. There may be some truth in all of these, but in reality, assuming a political stance from your audience based on their age, class or education is a dangerous game.
Some studies suggest that political standpoints can be gauged more accurately by looking at commonly shared views. For instance, a 2016 study pointed to a high correlation between support for Brexit and for capital punishment. Job sector and personality may play a role too, with creatives a lot more likely to be left-leaning. Last year, the Creative Industries Federation said 96% of its members planned to vote Remain before the European Union referendum.
With careful research, there may be some political common ground you can identify between what you do and the people you hope to attract as customers. At Engage Web though, we avoid political views in content and social media by default, unless our clients clearly state otherwise. We can, however, work with you to develop a profile of your ideal customer, including the newspapers they read and the films and TV programmes they watch, all of which may hint towards their political leaning.