When marketing and politics collide

For brands in today’s highly polarized climate, being mentioned by a politician, whether positively or negatively, marks a radical change from traditional marketing theory.

When Samsung announces it is building a factory in the United States that is surely good for the brand in that market. But for Donald Trump to publicly congratulate the South Korean company in a tweet that will reach several tens of millions of people directly, and many more indirectly, is raises a number of questions. Does Donald Trump’s tweet help the brand? Could it increase sales among its customers or will it turn many away? Did Donald Trump talk to the company beforehand, or did he do it believing the decision reflected the success of his policies?

Last Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy personally recommended a book called “1,785 reasons why even a Norwegian would want to be Spanish”. The recommendation was, in this case, completely spontaneous, unsolicited and unexpected. Responses to the tweet, were polarized, with most negative, many of them coming from people in Catalunya who actually don’t want to be Spanish. The publisher of the book quickly thanked Rajoy for his support. Are we sure that the old quote “there is no such thing as bad publicity”, or, as Oscar Wilde puts it, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about” still holds true? Should we expect more book sales after the Rajoy mention?

For a marketing manager, responding to these situations is a challenge. Being seen to cozy up to a politician who divides opinion may alienate those who don’t support him or her, but in return for media coverage that in turn will only lead to higher sales if the politician in question’s supporters is a reasonable sociodemographic fit with the corresponding product or service.

Being seen to be opportunistic can also backfire, but failing to take advantage of a possible opportunity for visibility can also be a mistake. For brands, the current situation whereby some politicians are not afraid to break traditional rules and mix business with politics means writing new rules. Although some brands have been encouraged for decades to participate meaningfully in politics through advertising or statements, and some even consider it an essential part of their corporate social responsibility, this is usually the result of a carefully thought-out strategy rather than an off-the-cuff response to politician that puts the company in the spotlight with an unexpected tweet.

It is increasingly important for brands to have clear and coherent ethical principles and to decide which politicians they wish to be seen to be associated with: it is no longer enough to just have a good product or service, they also need to project a certain outlook and mind the company they keep.

We are witnessing a change in how we conceive of leadership: positioning without a powerful presence on the social networks could lead to real problems. Welcome to a whole new ballgame.

(En español, aquí)