From Brexit to foreign aid, gay marriage to workplace diversity, brands’ political messaging has taken over shop windows, websites and packaging in the last few years.

With 64% of consumers now making their purchasing decisions based on a company’s social or political position and Nike’s profits soaring 31% just days after the controversial Colin Kaepernick ad, showing your brand’s ethos through your marketing has never been more important.

Your brand is no longer just about your products, but your personality, your beliefs, and your vision for the world around you. By staying silent on the biggest issues in your country, you risk being seen as complicit. But how can you show your sustained commitment and values without it looking like a transparent marketing ploy for a quick cash-grab?

Push conversation, not conversion

Political activism is healthy. Blatant self-promotion is not. When pushing your political agenda, whether that be anti-animal testing or pro-remain, think about the conversation you want to create. How do you want to boost awareness and show your brand’s stance on the topic? Maybe it’s a full-blown advertising campaign like Iceland did with Rang Tan for its anti-palm oil campaign, or perhaps your CEO will write a personal letter on social media, like Mark Zuckerburg did around immigration issues.

Whatever your plan, it needs to accompany your current marketing strategy, not be used as an exploitative trick. Be personal, explain why people need to be aware of this issue, and give background and reason. Iceland’s advert had no bearing to its food products, and Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick ad stood for the football star’s stance against police brutality. And yet both helped companies to steal the headlines and boost their products.

nike campaign

Photo Credit: Nike

Get to know your team, and the industry

There is no point deciding to push a certain message if the employees aren’t on board. After all, any stance on social issues won’t be coming from the PR team – it will likely come from the directors and executives at the top of the company chain.

Get to know your MD, CFO, and CTO’s – book in a ten-minute session to explore what they are passionate about, and find out how they got to their current role. Have they previously campaigned for a charity? Maybe they have strong views on how Brexit will impact your industry? You won’t know any of this until you talk to them, but their view or background on something could be the difference between an editor taking note or not. Personality, background and passion matter when getting your people and their views published.

Business leaders should also work closely with industry peers or create their own organisation to present a case for the cause – there is strength in numbers after all. For example, 50 heads of global businesses have published an open letter to world government leaders urging them to accelerate the race against climate change – a great way for businesses to use politics in their PR strategy.

Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum

Do your research

Make sure there is a market for your campaign and a reason behind it. See what your employees are interested in. Are a group of them marching for climate change? Share it on your social media! If you know that the subject you want to push is already being called on for more action to the government, you know that there’s room for you to promote your message. You can likely judge it by ear most of the time, but if you research a certain matter that’s been mentioned in the office that has been widely condemned by the public, it’s probably a bad call.  Also, if you have strong, differing, controversial opinions within the company from people who are all outspoken, it can be an obvious sign of friction to your customers, so you need to make sure you have a clear communications strategy, both internal and external.

Be responsive

Rapid response in any PR environment is important, but social media has rewritten the rules of reactive PR, as you can’t simply plan a 12-month campaign anymore, but instead, you must be ready to react at the drop of a hat. It’s the new normal, and if you can’t make decisions quickly, and have fast responses on social media, you run the risk of falling behind.

Can your executives weigh in on the latest minister announcements or controversial government decision on the day of the announcement? If they can add value, qualified comment on the latest news, get them ready to talk and get your views out there, whether it be on social or a press release.

Show passion, not silence

People can spot inauthenticity a mile off. If you aren’t being sincere and showing passion, people are going to suss out the fact you’re just using it as a money-maker. By being a good role model and being passionate about politics, you’re also far more likely to attract new talent and shift customers from being casual shoppers to advocates. 

In response to the immigration ban in 2017 by the Trump administration, Lyft donated $1m to the American Civil Liberties Union, which not only shone a spotlight on their goodwill, but also its competitor, Uber. The latter company remained silent on the issue at the time, which led to online perceptions of it being supportive of Trump’s controversial orders, and the hashtag #deleteUber trending. Reiterating what we said above, being silent (when your competitors are not) can risk the worse.

anti uber message

Photo Credit: Medium

Moving forward

Brands are increasingly becoming influencers as they look to ‘influence’ the status quo and raise awareness of society’s pressing issues. Brand activism that is supported by real-life stories is powerful, and it gets people talking. Incorporate charged messages into your PR and marketing strategy, and use your top people to get your point across on relative topics, but don’t leave out the rest of your employees. Encourage them to speak out on social, get involved with causes, and share their good deeds. Political neutrality no longer makes business sense.


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