Should Your Brand Speak Up or Stay Out of Political Moments?

By Adam Katz, CRO, Sightly

It’s been the case for a long time that when news of a political nature tops the cycle, many brands avoid the stories, commentaries and social conversations around it. But not all brands.

Take the January 6th hearings or the Supreme Court revisiting Roe v. Wade. Two of the most followed moments we’ve seen recently, both with strong political elements. Yet plenty of brands are still marketing around them.

Why?

I can think of a couple reasons. First, eyeballs matter a lot. Huge live audiences like the ones we’ve seen for the Jan. 6 hearings just outweighs context for a lot of marketers. That’s why news publishers can still sell out up front inventory despite the unpredictability of their content.

Even the commentary articles and clips recapping the hearings on news sites like this include plenty of ads from mainstream brands.

The second reason I can think of why brands want to lean into political moments is that they support one side of the issue or the other.

Now, do they genuinely align with a particular position (like certain brands around Roe v. Wade, for example)? Or are they making a strategic calculation based on ROI potential (so-called “cause capitalism”) or even fear of being canceled?

Just beware that if the decision to target issue-charged moments isn’t authentic, it may not be the right move. Consumers aren’t dumb. They can tell when brands use such moments just to gain new customers or to posture—and that’s where the real risk of getting canceled comes in.

So, what should brands do?

In case you haven’t noticed, almost every story, topic and celebrity has a political bent to it these days. It’s becoming the way of the world more and more.

Look at the recent Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. Everyone had their opinion, including those with political agendas.

Our strategic partner, Ad Fontes Media, analyzes news and news-like content for political bias and factual reliability. Its Media Bias Chart continuously rates sources and content (articles, videos and podcasts) along those two axes, and we integrate the data into our platform. This chart shows how even just a handful of articles about the trial took on different political slants.

Brands should dig deep and understand what they stand for, and what they don’t. Understanding what their political leanings are, and owning them, helps them know if, when and where their teams should jump into moments that arise every day.

But you have to be consistent when it comes to positions and values. You can’t be uber eco-conscious one day when it fits the trending news, and then forget about it the next day. People notice and call it out.

Look at Dior’s decision to stand with Johnny Depp. The brand has consistently stood by him through more than one controversy, despite backlash. As a brand, Dior fundamentally senses that the knee-jerk reactions so common of brands in the past may not be the way forward. There is a change brewing. Cancel culture is tiring. All human beings are fallible. It’s politics as unusual, as the Times explains in the above article:

“Something has fundamentally changed. And it may say as much about our tolerance for bad behavior and our relationship to celebrity (and cancel) culture as about the marketing model of luxury brands.”

The news cycle today is quicker than ever before, and people are smarter. It’s no longer a 24-hour news cycle; it’s more like 24 minutes. That might be an exaggeration but the point is: while all moments fade away, people remember where a brand shows up and how it responds in the context of the larger issues at play. They can’t fault a brand for wanting to turn a profit or increase its target reach, but they can — and will — choose to buy only from one they feel aligns with them and is worth supporting.

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