The risks and rewards of "going political" in marketing.
October 2, 2018 by Mark Brownlee

The risks and rewards of “going political” in marketing

It’s never been rarer to find a neutral observer of politics.

A polarizing president sits in the White House.

Demands for racial and gender equality are growing.

Political discussion and awareness is everywhere.

That’s why the pressure for marketers to get their campaigns off the sidelines and into the political arena is on the rise.

In this post we’ll delve into the risks – and rewards – of “going political” with your marketing campaigns from an audience, brand and messaging perspective.

Connecting with your audience

RISK: You’ll alienate part of your audience

There’s no getting around it: “Going political” is going to turn some of your audience members off of your brand.

The political world is polarized these days.

Selling a particular political message will turn off those on the opposite side of the spectrum.

It’s not just those who have a political stance, either.

Some are going to object to the fact that there’s any sort of political involvement in your campaign at all.

On the other hand, by not touching on important issues to your audience you risk seeming as though you are irrelevant and uncaring.

REWARD: You’ll deepen your bond with the rest of your audience

Marketing campaigns with political overtones are the same as any other marketing campaign: You need to know what your audience wants.

If the people you’re trying to reach hold a particular political opinion then you’ll deepen your connection with them.

Example: Dominion, an Ottawa-based brewery, got a lot of publicity for its “Buck-A-Beer” campaign aimed at raising money for refugees.

Branding

RISK: Your brand probably has no direct connection to the political world

Most organizations don’t have much to do with the political world.

Even non-profit organizations – including those who are advocating for political change – tend to steer away from overtly political messaging.

That makes it difficult to draw a connection between what you’re trying to connect with audiences on any political issue.

Forcing one will make your approach inauthentic and turn off your audience.

REWARD: Being neutral risks alienating your brand

Consumers are becoming hyper-aware of political issues.

If you choose not to “take a stand”, you’ll risk alienating those who are politically-inclined.

That means that not taking a risk could become the biggest risk of all.

For example: The NFL has attempted to sweep under the carpet concerns about players kneeling to protest racial injustice.

The result?

No one – from the president of the United States to advocates for social justice – is happy.

Messaging

RISK: You’ll get the message wrong

Even knowing your audience cold is no guarantee that you won’t “stick the landing” when it comes to discussing controversial issues.

There are reams of examples for this.

Many companies have, for example, failed tofind a message that is anything but offensive when it comes to commemorating 9/11.

It shouldn’t be hard to recognize that commemorating an event like that so it doesn’t seem as though you’re taking advantage of a tragedy to sell a product.

But it turns out that it is.

REWARD: You’ll generate more publicity for your campaign

Say this for going political: You exponentially increase the chances your campaign is going to generate attention outside of the marketing and advertising worlds.

Look no further than Nike’s recent campaign with professional football player Colin Kaepernick, made famous because he “took a knee” to protest racial inequality.

For a period in September discussion of the “believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything” was everywhere.

(In fact it was so popular that it spawned its very own meme).

Those who despised the football player and what he stands for only further enflamed the ad’s reach.

Conclusion

In the end a decision about “going political” comes down to your audience.

Will it help you form a deeper connection with the people you’re trying to reach?

Only by answering that question can you begin to decide whether delving into a political campaign is right for you.

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