With more brands active in social media, there is increased pressure to be more ‘human’ and engage with customers in a personal way. Brands inherently want to connect and social media allows this to happen effortlessly. But to truly connect, brands need to stay relevant by keeping a pulse on the community and knowing what it cares most deeply about. In most cases, brands talk about what they sell, whether it be food, clothes, or travel packages—but some go deeper and participate in conversations that are more significant and sometimes, even controversial.
Recently, there has been an influx of brands using advertisements and social media to make statements on current social issues. A hot topic—especially in the US—is the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, and a number of brands have joined in on the debate.
In June, Oreo posted a photo of a rainbow-coloured cookie on their Facebook Page in honour of Pride month. Basil Maglaris, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs for Kraft (Oreo’s parent company) stated that the company has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness and that the Oreo ad was a fun reflection of brand values. The post resulted in a large amount of positive earned media, but also significant backlash. Although the majority of comments were positive, the negative reaction was focused on and resulted in several boycotts. The post was eventually removed, due to abusive comments made by fans.
Other international brands, such as Gap and Ray Ban, have shown support for the LGBT community this year by releasing gay-themed ads which resulted in both reactions of support and backlash.
However, getting involved in the debate hasn’t been limited to just ads. Sometimes even the beliefs of a big personality behind the brand can have huge consequences on public perception.
Most recently, the president of US restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A, spoke out against gay marriage on a radio show, putting his company in the middle of the debate. His comments resulted in a huge spike in conversation, from complete support to utter disgust from customers and even notable celebrities and politicians.
Spike in “Chick Fil A” Google Searches
Spike in Social Media posts
Chick-fil-A: Positive Post
Chick-fil-A: Negative Post
Even the mayors of Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco got involved, stating the restaurant chain would not be welcome in their cities. On the other end of the spectrum, two former Republican presidential nominees, including Rick Santorum, invited an unofficial ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’ on August 1st for supporters to show their allegiance to the brand and their values.
So we know that taking a stand on a social or political issue is going to result in attention—but will it increase sales? Further, how will all the publicity (both good and bad) affect the brand? On the negative end, some customers may be outraged and start a boycott. On the positive side, a brand may be viewed as socially progressive, resulting in new customers and increased positive sentiment for the brand.
Obviously there is no obligation for a brand to take a public stance. As a marketer, do you believe brands should show support for political and social issues? Are there any that you feel align with your brand? Do you have the support to manage a potential negative reaction? Or do you think it’s just easier to remain neutral and leave the debate to government and policy makers?
Opinions aside, it will forever be interesting to see how brands continue to connect with their audiences in original, and sometimes controversial, ways.