“If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.” - Bill Bernbach
Over the last few years, the debate surrounding if and how brands should engage in news and politics has intensified. While some brands have a long history of advocacy, many more are now asking themselves (or are being asked by their customers and press) if they need to pick a side. A number of factors are working together to make this a high-priority discussion topic in marketing boardrooms today:
- Culture: More hostile and politically-charged, with greater polarization between groups
- Media: More 24/7 news stories that are clearly opinion-based, with a shorter shelf-life
- Brands: More marketers embracing and activating purpose-driven strategies for their brands
- Social: More people sharing their own beliefs and affiliations within their social graphs
- Advertising: More brands posting real-time cultural content through their social platforms
For marketers trying to ‘become part of culture’ and ‘create relevant connections’ with customers, the prospect of using a brand and its social channels to jump on a political issue or piece of fake-or-real news can be enticing. After all, doing so successfully may increase positive exposure with fans (at a low cost), differentiate brand values from competitors, and make the brand (and marketer) seem more modern and on-trend. However, the practices of ‘news-jacking’ can backfire badly if the marketer is viewed as hypocritical, inauthentic, tone-deaf, or overly attention-seeking. In such cases, the cost may be negative PR, employee backlash, and customer boycotts.
So is the benefit of engaging in news and politics worth the risk?
It depends (sorry, I am a strategist). There are a number of factors that marketers need to consider to answer this question for their own brands. The following framework outlines some key strategic questions to help guide your discussions and decision-making. If you answer 'No' to any of these questions, it may be prudent to stand down. Answer ‘Yes’ and it may be a new opportunity for your brand to utilize social media and take a stand.