Marketing with political ideology - is it worth the risk? - Octagon Digital

We are seeing more and more brands communicate their political ideology to consumers to take advantage of the massive social media attention around hot button issues. But why is this advantageous, and can it backfire?

There’s currently no shortage of hot button issues sparking worldwide conversations, many of which have a massively polarising effect. It can seem like there’s a new divisive issue taking over our news feeds every day, ranging from politics to religion, race and gender to lifestyle choices.

Opinions on these issues can spread like wildfire on social media platforms, giving huge exposure to popular figures who take definitive stances that resonate with large groups of people. But recently, we’ve seen not just individuals but big-name brands enter the conversation to make their voice heard with massive results. Let’s take a look at an example.

Nike – “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Nike Inc.’s corporate mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” As an extension of this mission statement, Nike have 11 ‘Maxims’ including ‘do the right thing’, ‘the consumer decides’ and ‘evolve immediately’ (full list here:, which act as guiding principles for their employees and their campaigns.

Nike made good on a number of these maxims when they released their controversial ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the San Fransisco 49ers quarterback who decided to kneel during the national anthem at the start of a game to protest injustice and police brutality. 

The campaign received a large-scale backlash from thousands who slammed Nike for the ‘anti-American’ ideals portrayed by the ad. Some critics even posted videos of themselves burning Nike gear in protest. And that’s not all – The Wall Street Journal reported that Nike stock fell nearly 3% almost overnight.

So how can this have worked in Nike’s favour? The answer is in the details.

According to TMZ Sports, “African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians are more strongly represented in Nike’s consumer base than they are in the U.S. population.”

“18 to 34-year-olds comprise 30 percent of the U.S. population, but they represent a whopping 43 percent of Nike buyers.”

There you have it. Nike doesn’t see a booming future in the purchasing power of older generation, largely conservative whites (who largely made up the demographic of those offended by the Kaepernick ad). Instead, Nike have gone after a younger, socially conscious audience who are now more loyal to them than ever before. They took a risk and it will pay off in the long run. The key word here, which echoes Nike’s brand values we spoke about earlier, is ‘evolution’.

This is just one example of a hot button issue serving as a vehicle for a brand to align themselves with the values shared by their target audience. Gillette have attempted a similar tactic with the recent “the best men can be” campaign, which hits out at toxic masculinity. Time will tell whether joining this hugely polarising conversation will serve their brand, or see them take a hit and lose legions of previously loyal customers.

It’s always a risk, but if deployed successfully, manoeuvres such as this can have powerful and lasting effects on a brand’s ability to stay relevant. So, next time you see a brand voice a risky opinion on a divisive issue, think about why this could be strategically beneficial despite ruffling some feathers in the process!

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