Customers want brands to take a side, but advertisers don’t

Most customers want brands to take a side on political and social issues

Political controversy can be a nightmare for marketers and brand managers. It’s hard to take a side – even a popular side – without alienating some group of potential fans and customers.

Staying neutral isn’t really an option either. Surveys over the years consistently show that customers want brands to take a side.

Does that mean it’s time for your company and marketing department to take a side on every social or political issue that comes up? Not necessarily.

Customers are more interested in the brand’s political stance if the product or service is directly related to the social issue of the day. There’s much less interest if your products & services are unrelated. For example, customers indicated that they want to hear about COVID-19 news from grocery stores and pharmacies, but less so from fashion brands, beauty gurus, and car companies. If your company is directly affected by the issues, people want to know what you’re doing to address it.

Advertisers are less interested in embracing controversy

Despite overwhelming popular support for Black Lives Matter, advertisers don’t seem to be interested in taking a side. Publishers have reported extremely low advertising rates on content that addresses the current political debate in America, and AdAge has a report out about advertisers who are blocking their ads from displaying on any #BLM related content.

The result is that customers increasingly want publishers to take a side – but the corporations behind the advertising aren’t willing to pay for it.

Will the companies blocking their ads face controversy and backlash of their own? Possibly, but these types of ad placement decisions tend to be relatively private and there are many justifications a company can give as to why their ads didn’t appear on any particular page. Some companies may even voice support for #BLM while quietly removing financial support from the outlets that promote it.

Publishers caught in the middle

Doing nothing might be bad for business. Taking a side might be just as bad, if not worse.

My personal advice would be to do the right thing – morally. Be genuine and authentic with your approach instead of worrying too much about the economic implications. Customers really don’t like a company or brand that cynically exploits tragedy and political controversy by taking easy stands or trying to profit off bad news & division.

With that said, Black Lives do in fact Matter and we have serious problems with racism to deal with in America. It’s one of our nation’s oldest and most lingering problems, and it’s about time we did something about it.

There’s really no excuse at this point, and your customers won’t be impressed by a spreadsheet that shows potential losses in advertising revenue. In the long run, one side will win out, and those who failed to take a side won’t be rewarded for their inaction. I won’t guarantee that doing the right thing is the same as doing the easy thing, or that it’s the path that will make your investors happy, but it remains the right thing to do.

Black Lives Matter. Full stop.

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