When it comes to politics brands must choose wisely

by Nigel Hollis | July 17, 2017

We all know that brands become iconic by addressing a societal tension, so perhaps it is not surprising that the controversy swirling around President Trump and his actions should attract the attention of marketers. Whether that is a good thing, or not, depends on the brand and its target audience.

Politics is stirring up strong emotions and we all know that brands need to appeal to the emotions. But as this is less an inherent tension and more a gaping rift, brands are getting political. However, it can be risky when a brand bets its future on taking a political stand.

For some reason I am irresistibly reminded of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the Grail Knight is asked which of a selection of goblets is the Holy Grail. He states,

“You must choose. But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”

Needless to say the bad guy chooses poorly. But he chooses poorly because he judges which is the true Grail based on his own values. Indiana, with a better understanding of the Grail’s origins chooses wisely.


This scene should be a salutary lesson to anyone trying to decide whether their brand should take a political stand. Choose wisely. Apart from the risk of a backlash from the brand’s customers because of misjudging what how they might react, it can be easy for the brand to come across as inauthentic and fail to connect the desired impression with the right brand. As one of the title of one of the sections in our latest reports states, no brand means no impression.

There are some brands who were duty bound to take a stand and to do it with their own inimitable style. In response to the news that President Trump was taking the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement Ben & Jerry’s posted 6 Reasons Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Agreement Was Totally, Definitely the Right Move. With reasons like Being a Global Pariah Is Really Cool and a liberal set of references to their own products I suspect this post was right on target.

Turning to a video this time, we have Apple’s tribute to the planet using video shot on people’s iPhones. Using voiceover from Carl Sagan the video was described by Tim Nudd of Adweek as,

“a poetic warning of how much we have to lose.”

Thanks to Ann Green for bringing the video to my attention. As she noted this connection to the brand is hard to miss.

Of course, brands can also be more direct in their use of political controversy, as in the poster from Smirnoff which states,

“Made in America. But we’d be happy to talk about our ties to Russia under oath.”

Again, this seems like a good use of a political issue without losing sight of what the brand stands for. But what do you think? Do politics and brands mix? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Hakan Senbir, July 18, 2017

    I would definitely go along with your question Mr. Hollis, since it will be more and more critical day by day. From my point of view, a brand must not interfere in any political issue at all. Because of two reason. One is that, political issues have potential to blur the brand essence and the other reason is that, most of the end-users are simple human beings who have deep insights about politics and it's hard to penetrate those.

    One we'd met in Istanbul in a Millward Brown meeting so many greeting from Istanbul.

    King regards, Hakan Senbir

  2. Ed C, July 17, 2017
    I think you said it best - the brand should know what it stands for and act that way. Some brands probably should play right into politics - maybe manufacturers of firearms or green energy, while some probably shouldn't. Despite never claiming to have said this, Michael Jordan was reported to have said (when asked to endorse a Democratic candidate), that he would rather not, as Republicans buy sneakers too, signalling to me that perhaps some brands/categories need not play here to increase equity.

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