Trump vs. Business vs. Trump
by Bruce TurkelMr. Turkel is CEO of Turkel Brands, a full-service, multicultural brand management firm located in Miami, Florida. He blogs regularly on marketing, PR & advertising issues and trends. Visit Turkel Brands. Reprinted with permission.
February 6, 2017 — The Trump administration banned immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries.
Two days later Starbucks’ chairman and chief executive officer, Howard Schultz, marched onto the brand battlefield and promised the company will hire 10,000 refugees over five years across 75 countries.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick rolled onto the brand battlefield stating Trump’s order would, “affect lots of drivers who use Uber and come from the listed countries, many of whom take long breaks to go back home to see their extended family… That means they will not be able to make a living and support their families—and of course they will be separated from their loved ones during that time.”
Immigration rights activists thought this implied Uber would breakup planned driver strikes. In response they launched their #DeleteUber movement onto the brand battlefield. #DeleteUber is a much stronger call to action than #BoycottUber (or Starbucks) by the way. Because once you delete the Uber app it’s harder to take the action to restore it and use the service again.
Quickly seizing on the issue, Lyft hit the brand battlefield too. The second most popular ride-sharing pledged to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union to fight Trump’s executive order.
Enter the Beauty Queens
Political posturing has become so prevalent that even beauty queens have been drawn into the fray. As Melissa Francis and I discussed on After The Bell, the 2017 Miss Universe choice, Iris Mittenaere, was asked about open borders.
Her answer? “The country should have the right to open or close their borders. Having open borders allows us to travel more through the world, and to find out more about what’s out there in the world.” Granted, Mittenaere took no side and made no salient points but her comments were still seen as shots fired onto the brand battlefield.
Of course such non-committal answers are only good or bad depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Mostly they accomplish nothing, so you don’t get any bang for the buck by straddling the fence firmly. But you can still get in trouble. And to quote Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste.”
In today’s newly polarized reality it’s safe to assume that anything you say will offend somebody. Therefore, it’s probably better to take a stand based on the specific outcome – and the specific audience – you are pursuing. For example, the Starbucks CEO’s comment upset @SimplyRedeemable enough to post a couple of anti- Starbucks’ rants on my Twitter feed. Still, her last post said, “I can’t afford Starbucks.” Clearly Schultz isn’t going to worry about losing that customer.
Hence my question: Can companies and public figures circumvent the ramifications of political involvement? Or should they rush onto the brand battlefield with both barrels blazing?
No Political Safe Harbor
Big thinker Brian Walter says there’s “simply no political safe harbor for big business anymore.” For decades, they could pursue their political interests mostly under cover. They rarely had to pick sides and risk alienating customers. But the 2016 election, combined with the transparency of online communication, has eliminated that option. Now businesses are caught in the same political divisions that are wreaking havoc among friends and family on social media and across dinner tables. Businesses will be criticized and pilloried for taking a stand or for NOT taking a stand. Inaction will be interpreted as condoning whatever decisions the companies try to ignore.
There is no middle ground, no safe space, no politic-less zone. Today companies find themselves on the brand battlefield whether they want to be there or not.
Before you think big business is the victim here, it’s important to understand that there is much more going on. Big business is also shifting in how it plays politics. In the past their move was to donate to the campaigns and candidates the companies and CEO’s supported. Of course, they donated mostly to politicians who pursued their narrow area of interest. They also supported PACs and groups that promoted the same thing.
Old school company values consisted of spineless platitudes framed and hung on the conference room wall. Today a company will act on its core values. Because the new play is participation. Big businesses are harnessing the publicity power that comes from activism and social media. Rather than avoiding the fray they will become part of the fray.
This makes some shareholders and customers uncomfortable because they can no longer say they share values. Instead, they’ll spend their money with companies who think like they do.
Don’t support Trump? Do some research and chances are you won’t buy beer from Yuengling, ketchup from Heinz, clothes from L.L. Bean, or anything from Amway.
Support Trump? If you check their political contributions or comments you probably won’t do business with Ben & Jerry’s, PepsiCo or Costco.
Yesterday it was the Culture Wars. Today it’s the Value Wars. And as businesses become combatants, we consumers will march onto the brand battlefield with our pocketbooks swinging.