When politics and business mix, what should companies do?
Friday, April 06, 2018
When your business decides to connect its advertising to a celebrity or notable public persona, you always run the risk of what that person may say or do in the public eye.
With social media and instant news, it becomes more difficult to hide blemishes — regardless of how great a publicist that celebrity may have. When controversy hits, the companies that sponsor the person must then decide how to react to the events.
Advertisers for "The Ingraham Angle" on Fox News found this out the hard way recently after the show's host, Laura Ingraham, got into hot water on Twitter. Ingraham poked fun at David Hogg — a teen who survived the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting and has since become an outspoken advocate for gun control — for being rejected by four colleges.
David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA...totally predictable given acceptance rates.) https://t.co/wflA4hWHXY— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) March 28, 2018
Hogg and his peers quickly fired back, calling Ingraham a bully and demanding that advertisers on her show take action. It didn't take long for those companies to do so, and so far at least 15 of them have pulled advertising for the show.
Pick a number 1-12 contact the company next to that #— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) March 29, 2018
Top Laura Ingraham Advertisers
4. @Allstate & @esurance
6. @RocketMortgage Mortgage
But even when companies make the tough decision and take a stand in the face of public pressure, they still have to worry about the after-effects.
After companies like Bayer, Wayfair, Hulu and Nestle pulled their ads from Ingraham's show, they faced backlash from right-wing Twitter users, who stated their boycotts from these companies. They claim these companies are "limiting free speech" for celebrities such as Ingraham, whose apologies to Hogg were rejected.
Free speech is a huge part of this situation, and it's clear that everyone — including companies — has First Amendment rights. But celebrities can be punished for their speech by losing their sponsorships.
Tiger Woods is making his first appearance since 2015 at the Masters this weekend, accompanied with a "welcome back" commercial by Nike.
But when Woods was dealing with his personal scandal in 2009, he lost many of his sponsors. In this case, it was a judgement of morality for these companies — Should they stick by someone who was committing adultery or was it too much of a risky move?
Though it's a good rule of thumb to keep your personal political stances out of your business, some companies do not wish to hide how they feel about politics. Chick-fil-A, Mardel and Hobby Lobby have expressed their conservative views to the public, while companies like Target, Google and Starbucks are often touted as liberal in the news. Their celebrity sponsorships are equally as vocal about their political stances on social media, at media events and through their interviews.
So if your company is considering sponsoring a well-known public person, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure you and the celebrity are clear on what your company's mission statement is. It is important to make sure you stick to the mission statement, regardless of what that public persona may emulate.
- Create a clear statement that points out that celebrities' views are their own, even if they are paid to promote your product.
- If they do something that is against your company's mission, have a press release stating your disapproval (and possibly breach of contract), but still saying that you respect their free speech.
- Have a tough skin for any backlash that may come from you pulling your sponsorship. Again, if it went against your company's mission statement, it's the right call — even if some people boycott or protest your company, it's still worth it to have the ability to not back someone who did something against your mission. Besides, most of these things tend to fade into "old news" rather quickly and are forgotten, bringing your revenue back to where it was previously.
Politics are messy enough without involving your business and livelihood, so try and keep some caution at hand when deciding who you are sponsoring.
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