Should brands get involved in public issues?

Brands supporting marriage equality

As we’ve seen in the news today, much thought needs to be given before using your brand to publicly support a political or social cause. The AFL’s public stance to support marriage equality, has divided the nation. Should they have used their brand to demonstrate their support? This is what seems to be polarising the public. Essentially sporting brands are made up of many individuals. And one of the arguments against the AFL publicly stating ‘yes’ is that this is a personal choice, and the decision to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should be reserved for the individual.

Meanwhile Coca-cola have also thrown their support behind the marriage equality debate. For the first time in 131 years, Coca-Cola is using its iconic Spencerian script for something other than its logo. They’ve developed limited edition Coke cans with the words ‘love’ emblazoned, one of the hearts being rainbow-coloured. This however has caused less public controversy. Most likely because people are far less invested in Coke as a brand that represents who they are and what they stand for, whereas the opposite can be said for the AFL.

How did AFL get it wrong and Coke get it right?

Like every decision surrounding your brand, you need to go back to your brand strategy. What are those values and beliefs that make your brand what it is today? It’s those values and beliefs that have resonated with your customers and turned them into loyal fans. If you’re going to use your brand to grandstand, then only do so if it’s a cause that closely relates back to your brand’s core.

You also need to consider that your brand is what your customers say it is, not what you say it is. So decide whether speaking out on a particular issue is something that your brand fans would unanimously support. Is this cause related to how they personally identify themselves with your brand? Or would it be divisive?

Let’s look at Coke. Their younger fan base are more progressive and open-minded. Coke has always positioned itself as a current brand, with ‘Fun’ and ‘Love’ as attributes. Alternatively, we have the AFL fans who are die-hard supporters and use the brand to represent themselves personally, and collectively. Their fan base are far broader in terms of demographics, and are generally speaking, more conservative. Tradition and heritage are also attributes of the AFL; long-standing beliefs and values are more entrenched and difficult to change. People will proudly claim to be an AFL fan, whereas Coke customers don’t align themselves as closely to the Coke brand. That’s why the AFL as a brand, needs to tread very carefully on issues outside of football.

So in summary, here we have two brands taking the same stance on the same issue, yet two very different outcomes.

Do what’s best for your brand

Big brands have the power to create change, that’s what makes branding so exciting. However, change isn’t made without creating waves first. If there’s controversy or a hot social topic that you’d like to voice your opinion on, do it alone. Present it as your own personal opinion. Don’t take your brand there. But if you do decide to go there, be well prepared for those who don’t support your views. Be firm on your stance (in a nice way of course). And if you’re going to put up a ‘yes’ sign, don’t take it down within 24 hours.

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