Celebrity endorsements of products are a time honored, tested and proven approach to build consumer love and support for a brand. And an authentic celebrity “shout out” – one that doesn’t come from a paid spokesperson or in a paid media channel is often considered the holy grail of celebrity involvement. It checks all of the boxes marketers are looking for today – authentic, engaging, shareable, and dare I say “potential to go viral?”
But what happens when an authentic shout out feels more like a brand hijacking? There is much discussion these days about tweets from President-Elect Trump, most recently about LL Bean. The convergence of politics and brand evangelism is a new challenge marketers face, and is particularly vexing for brands that have broad enough appeal to have loyal customers across all dimensions of the political spectrum – where a tweet from an elected official like President-elect Trump is as likely to result in a call for a boycott as a rush to buy the brand. What’s a brand to do?
First, don’t let the word “boycott” cause a panic – every day there are calls for boycotts of brands for a variety of reasons, and they usually impact headlines more than the bottom line. Remember Chick-fil-A and the boycott over its founder’s marriage equality stance? Or the reactions to Target’s policy on transgender bathrooms? If you don’t remember those things, you’ve made my point. And even if you do remember, have you noticed either of these brands going out of business? And while I don’t advocate panic, I also don’t advocate hiding your head in the sand.
The key to success in these situations is to know your audience and what they value, and respond accordingly (Which may include not responding at all!). Keep in mind that when an uninvited celebrity shout out on social really doesn’t comport with your brand’s values, you can usually rely on the community to police and correct the narrative on its own, and that happens pretty fast.
At MWWPR, we advocate a common sense approach and careful monitoring of the situation. If you feel the conversation about the brand is negative, but it is dying down, the worst thing to do is create a second news cycle with your response. Generally we ask three questions to guide response:
- Does the mention align with our brand and its values? – We should expect President Trump to talk often about American companies, and in particular products that are made in America (Now, not all of them will also include big Super Pac donations, but that is another subject altogether.). In these circumstances the rule “any attention is good attention” may apply – and you may want to think about how to amplify the conversation, while pivoting away from the controversial source of the conversation. Visual content that shows your products being produced, and a mention of your company’s commitment to local employment? Or quality?
- Does this event impact our brand loyalists? Or are we simply seeing our brand detractors getting stirred up? – Too often companies spend 80 percent of their energy fighting fires with constituencies that are against them, no matter what. A brand hater isn’t going to be changed, and if they are passionate they won’t even be neutralized. A better strategy is to think about how to amplify your supporters rather than trying to silence your critics. And it has a higher degree of success too.
- Does this conversation confuse our constituencies about who we are and what we stand for? – In this case it might be worth clarifying your position and your priorities with a single, simple response. Skittles set the standard on this approach. Their playbook is easy to emulate and I’ve written about it before. The important thing is clarify your values and differentiate your brand from the conversation using those values. This is most effective when you’ve already established your values, both with discussion and demonstration to all of your constituencies. And once you’ve done that, drop the mic. Step away from the keyboard. And let the community do its thing.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a resident of the White House impact consumer brand conversation and trends. Think about President Obama’s well known love for his Blackberry in an iPhone age. Or First Ladies wearing American designers and all of the good things that does for their business. And for those old enough to remember, the brand Jelly Belly really took off when Ronald Reagan had jelly beans in the Oval Office as his go-to snack. And while the approach did not include blatantly promotional tweets, the influence has always been there. President Elect Trump is not a career politician, he was schooled in the concept of the importance of brand promotion – a concept he has always embraced.
This new phenomenon of controversial shout outs is unlikely to go away. If you haven’t been thinking about it as part of your scenario planning, it might be time to start. Because you just never know.