Red Brand – Blue Brand: It’s Political
What does trust have to do with cereal? Well, a lot, according to angry conservative voters’ cereal-bowl boycott following Kellogg’s decision to drop its ads from Breitbart, a Trump-backed news outlet. The question is: will you switch out your favorite breakfast cereal if the brand’s politics don’t align with your own?
Did you delete your Uber app in the wake of the JFK airport demonstrations? Burn your New Balance shoes? Avoid Starbucks? How far are consumers really willing to go to take a political stand with their wallets?
Early in his campaign, Trump claimed that he would never eat an Oreo again (though he supposedly loves the cookies) because of Nabisco’s plans to outsource Indiana factory jobs to Mexico. It’s hard to say whether Trump supporters followed suit in his cookie boycott, but it opened up some big questions for Nabisco. Should the company fight for right-wing support or lean the other way and market Oreos towards left-wing cookie lovers? Do loyal customers stay loyal, or will every market begin to split into red and blue brands?
In late fall, videos and photos depicting customers burning their New Balance shoes flew across the internet. A quote from a corporate official on his optimistic view of a new trade deal had been taken out of context as a sign of the company’s support for Trump. Although New Balance released a statement that the company “does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form,” surely the image of torched New Balance shoes could not be good news for its brand value. The company’s response lacked a certain finesse needed to win back liberal customers. Perhaps a line of anti-Trump sneakers would do the trick, but it’s a difficult balancing act.
Meanwhile, Trump’s coffee-loving consortium showed their support by playing a clever trick on Starbucks. When ordering beverages, they told baristas their name was “Trump.” These drinks were served in Starbucks cups physically stamped with Trump’s name, which baristas also had to call out with each order. Did Starbucks want Trump branding on its merchandise? Absolutely not, but it didn’t matter, because there was nothing that employees could do about it.
Yesterday, Trump made a statement of his own against Nordstrom when the chain dropped Ivanka’s clothing line from its stores due to declining sales. He tweeted, “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom.” While Democrats scoffed at the tweet, many Republicans have united with the president in boycott of the company. Does this make Nordstrom a blue brand?
In January, Uber took heat for its refusal to participate in a mass taxi strike at JFK in protest of Trump’s unconstitutional ban. Uber continued its driving services and tweeted to customers that surge pricing had been switched off. Customers responded quickly by deleting their Uber apps and launching a #DeleteUber campaign. In the end, over 200,000 customers deleted their Uber accounts and CEO Travis Kalanick gave up his position on Trump’s economic advisory council.
Rival Lyft picked up ex-Uber customers in the wake of the controversy, jumping from 39th to 6th on Apple’s App stores rankings. This is where the risk of refraining from taking a political stance becomes very clear. Could a customer boycott take down an entire brand? If the Uber boycott generated enough power that every customer deleted their app, the company would cease to exist.
Some brands have made bold moves of their own, like PepsiCo’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, who said in an interview that PepsiCo employees were crying at work the morning after the election. Nooyi is trying to push PepsiCo’s brand in a healthy and environmentally friendly direction, and aligning with Trump aesthetics was not on the agenda. “We don’t announce our strategy based on the president of the United States,” she said, declaring PepsiCo an anti-Trump brand. Will Coca Cola or Mountain Dew step forward as red brands that play to the political market, or will the red brand-blue brand split simmer?
This age is one of heightened citizen awareness, so brands should tread more carefully in ethical and emotional territory. Since PepsiCo customers span the political spectrum across the country, it may not have been the best business move for Nooyi to share her thoughts about politics when it came to the company’s success. The PepsiCo corporate team, for one, feared she’d jeopardized the brand and released a statement claiming she’d misspoken in the interview.
Brands have always had the task of appealing to customer preferences, but this election has forced them to address the political sphere, as well. Since the media has largely lost the trust of the public, there’s an opportunity for brands to serve as the next frontier of great political change. After all, if Americans can’t come together over breakfast cereal, where does that leave us? Are we destined for grocery stores split between red and blue aisles?