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Innovation and the Politics of Brands

By Burkey Belser
September 29, 2017
Innovation and the Politics of Brands

Next week, I will moderate a panel of three other marketers, Alejandra Owens, VP of AARP’s Social Communications, Scott Martin, former CMO of Phillips Lighting, and Sara Thomas, Director of Activism and Outreach for the World Wildlife Fund, on a topic everyone must deal with today…or at least, be well-prepared for. A recent study shows that 46% of executives from large companies around the world prefer companies speak out on issues such as climate change, gun control, immigration and LGBT rights. You can imagine the many challenges of speaking out.  No worries for Chick Fil-A, whose religious values are clearly expressed. The chicken server lives its credo, closes on Sundays and is vocal on issues where it feels it must assert moral authority. One does wonder, however, why they put a stand in at FedEx field where games are mostly played on Sundays.

The line in the sand for other organizations is less clear. The values of excellence and service may be overtly expressed by, for example, Walmart, but should they speak out on social issues that are not part of their credo and risk damage to their bottom line? For Silicon Valley executives, Trump’s aggressive immigration policy affects their bottom line, thus an outspoken public position is, from a business point of view, strategic. Patagonia launched its first, and perhaps only, ad calling for the preservation of the nation’s National Parks, at the moment Trump has virtually all the Parks under review to shrink or exploit their natural resources.

For non-profits, it is their job to speak out on issues. We expect the World Wildlife Fund to speak out on climate change, the world’s pristine environments and endangered species. They would be derelict to their member base if they did not do so. We expect the NRA to take a hardline on gun control and their interpretation of an American’s constitutional right to bear arms. AARP’s mission has become more complex since repositioning to represent a broader swath of the population (which, I believe, are those 50 and older). Still a niche (not everybody) but everybody and anything within that niche. What positions do you believe are appropriate to their mission?

But what about those who seemingly have nothing to gain and everything to lose? In my mind, this is where this conversation gains traction.  Edmund Burke, the English philosopher, famously said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  The separation of church and state is enshrined in our constitution but the separation of business and politics is not so clearly defined. Business has practiced its politics quietly in the halls of Congress, at the Palm and on the golf course. Businessmen and women may be tapped for positions in an administration but, at that point, they [should] become disassociated from their companies or organizations. Is it just the Trump administration that is provoking vocal, even violent protest or support of government policies, or is this simply the apotheosis of a long-developing trend?

We will explore these ideas on Wednesday, October 5 from 3:45-4:30 following Nando Peri-Peri’s story of their troublemaker brand. We hope to see you there. We’ll keep you posted on how the conversation unfolds.