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Brands are getting political

It’s hard to not “get political” for brands over the past few weeks. There have been terror attacks in Spain and the incident in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer. Civil and national unrest has prompted brands to respond with their own campaigns or strategy shifts.

Brands have varied in how they have responded to these types of crises. Some have already removed their advertisements from controversial sites, while others have created an active comment, policy, or campaign.

Brands are getting involved

The events at Charlottesville have caused more brands to get political, but brands started sharing their views before then. The immigration ban also prompted brands to become more involved to connect with consumers about topics they care about. While this can be done well, some brands did misstep (Pepsi).

Uber, Lyft, Starbucks, and Airbnb have taken the opportunity to speak out in accordance with their values.

“Honesty is the foundation of any relationship. As is being true to who you are, standing up for what you think is right.”

— Saul Bedmead, chief strategy officer at Y&R Europe

Removing themselves from controversial content

Digiday covered brands pulling advertisements from sites deemed “too controversial.” With media companies under fire for how advertisements are being placed, and the secrecy around their processes, brands are taking placement into their own hands. They don’t want their ads shown next to political or controversial content they don’t agree with.

Companies working with agencies have “blacklisted” certain sites for their content. Sites include, Breitbart, and Infowars. Some brands have singled out news sites like CNN and New York Times.

An anonymous exec commented, “Advertisers may just be using Fox News as a symbol of rejecting offensive content or ideas… [It’s] a pretty political move for a brand to publicly reject a publisher, but the calculation is likely to be ‘better safe than sorry.’”

Uber’s response denounced hate

After the event’s in Charlottesville, I received the below email from Uber. While Uber has not had the best PR lately, the made a point to denounce the events in Charlottesville and address how they are helping the Uber community.

The email reads,

“Dear Sophie,

We were horrified by the neo-Nazi demonstration that took place in Charlottesville, which resulted in the loss of life of a young woman as well as two Virginia State Troopers responding to the protest. There is simply no place for this type of bigotry, discrimination, and hate.

As the country braces for more white supremacist demonstrations, we wanted to let you know what we are doing for the Uber community:

We will act swiftly and decisively to uphold our Community Guidelines, including our policy against discrimination of any kind—this includes banning people from the app.

24/7 in-app support is available to answer questions and address concerns. You always have the right to end your trip if you feel uncomfortable or disrespected.

Now more than ever we must stand together against hatred and violence. Thank you for making our community one that we can all be proud of.

On behalf of all of us at Uber,

Meghan Verena Joyce

Regional General Manager, US & Canada Cities”

Online discussion about what to do

In one Facebook group I’m in, there was an active discussion about how a brand can comment on tragedy or events like Charlottesville. It was interesting to listen to small business owners discuss why they wanted to make a statement, how they had already made one, and how to do so in an appropriate way.

Some decided to donate a percentage of their proceeds toward charitable organizations. Others posted signs on their stores. Some posted on social media. Each one took a unique approach to responding to political events.

What can brands do to lead with their values?

When a brand’s mission comes in direct opposition to the beliefs or acts demonstrated, brands have to opportunity to comment and show their perspective. This doesn’t have to be done in a large way, but something like donating proceeds is a way to put your money where your beliefs are. Voting with dollars shows customers and prospective customers your commitment to your vision.

Some ways brands can respond include:

  • Making a statement. It can be online on in-store. A statement regarding the business’s beliefs and mission can reaffirm what the brand stands for.
  • Donate to a cause. Show people what you stand for by donating to a mission that is complementary to your own.
  • Open up a discussion. Speak to people around you and open up a meaningful dialogue about events.

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