I grew up in business at Johnson's Baby Products, so naturally I learned a more conservative approach to marketing. We never got too controversial and we would never want to alienate any of our consumers. Through all of my brand and client assignments, I have never even attempted to cross the line. I wouldn't say I am personally conservative at all, but in business I am usually out of the fray.
As a result, I was a little surprised at the response of some brands when New York State recently passed the Marriage Equality Act. Literally the next business day, brands including Levi's, The Container Store, and Old Navy had storefront displays in support of gay marriage. Manhattan Storage has been running a full campaign supporting the cause for a while now. In one execution, any newlywed couple gets three months free storage. Another reads, "If you don't like gay marriage, then don't get gay married." This isn't the first issue the brand has tackled, but it is one of the most continuously supported I have seen.
Kenneth Cole's political satire has long been the voice of its advertising, not so subtly taking on issues such as anti-war, pro-choice, and equal rights. The current campaign called "Where Do You Stand?" encourages people to join the brand and speak up about the leading issues that our country is currently debating. (For more on the Kenneth Cole effort, see the Launch Pad in PRWeek's September issue.)
When brands go political, it can be quite a risk. Sure, those that agree with the statements are going to love the brand, but those who don't are likely to turn away. Problems can be exacerbated in this era of sharing on social media.
However, one could say a brand's promotion of its ethical views and political statements is just really good targeting - knowing your audience and serving yourself up in a way that they will connect to, relate with, and share with your brand. If you're willing to take the risk and make a choice about the kind of brand you are going to be and the kind of person you are going to attract, then the reward can be a much deeper relationship with your consumers and an intensely more loyal following.
From a classical marketing perspective, this "political" strategy actually makes sense - it's really smart marketing. So why aren't more brands taking a stand?
Jim Joseph is president and partner of Lippe Taylor and author of The Experience Effect.