Taking risks & the brand cost of sitting on the fence

Taking risks & the brand cost of sitting on the fence

Taking risks with your brand can be understandably nerve-wracking. It used to be said that all PR is good PR, but there have been plenty of PR disasters in recent years that beg to differ. Politicising ad campaigns is risky business indeed, as Pepsi’s divisive protest campaign with Kendall Jenner showed.

However, while a misjudged campaign can certainly damage the public’s perception of a brand, it’s typically only the most serious faux pas that aren’t forgiven when it comes to purchase decisions. While Pepsi’s “consumer perception levels” hit rock bottom after their controversial Black Lives Matter-esque advert, it didn’t stop their profits from rising.

For brands trying to stay relevant in highly political times, it’s understandable that many are publicly picking sides in order to align themselves more closely with target audiences. But for brands who haven’t yet found the nerve to do this, it’s equally worth considering the risk of stagnation caused by sitting on the fence.


Consumer Trust

Various reports and surveys show that right now, there is a lack of trust in businesses from the general public. According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, common concerns include businesses not paying their fair share of taxes, and not caring enough about people and the planet.


In an age where consumers are bombarded with options, purchasing decisions often boil down to which brands an individual feels that they can trust. If you can create feelings of trust in your brand, this in turn creates loyalty, and encourages consumers to become brand advocates.

Trusting a brand typically means that you associate with that particular product or service. The things that we engage with become a part of our identity, with consumers keen to support organisations which are seen to be acting in line with their own personal beliefs, while disengaging with those who are not, or those where affiliations are unclear.

It’s also brand trust that enables businesses to become authorities in their field, an invaluable part of content marketing. Create enough trust, and consumers will come looking to you when they want reliable, quality information and advice.


Social Media and Brand Transparency

Thanks to social media, people are switched on to where products and services are being marketed, and how they are being portrayed. Rather than taking any organisation’s claims at face value, it’s possible to find out detailed brand histories and affiliations in seconds, and to see whether multinational corporations are acting hypocritically, or ‘giving anything back’.

For this reason, it’s important that when giving your brand a clear position on any particular issue, you ensure that it’s something the company really lives by. Beyonce’s Ivy Park clothing line got serious bad press after positioning itself in a feminist, girl power stance, when it came to light that their clothes were produced by women working 60-hour weeks for only 54 cents an hour in Sri Lanka.


Ethical consumerism – the act of boycotting purchases deemed to have ‘negative’ impacts while deliberately spending money with those which are ‘positive’ – is not a new concept. But in the last few years, increasingly heated political climates have seen a shift in the behaviour of both consumers and advertisers in this field.

At base level, there are simple certifications like ‘Fairtrade’, ‘Free Range’ and ‘Rainforest Alliance Certified’. But higher up the food chain are highly politicised global advertising campaigns, like Nike’s collaboration with Colin Kaepernick.


Ethical and Political Brand Positioning

After Kaepernick protested against racial injustice and police brutality in the USA by kneeling during the national anthem, he was cut from his NFL team. Nike featured his face with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” in what was both a show of support for Kaepernick, and a risky exercise in brand positioning on the side of Black Lives Matter and other social movements.


The campaign quickly went viral worldwide, and while it was not universally applauded, Nike reported record brand engagement in the aftermath, and a huge uplift in both traffic and sales.

For a brand which has faced criticism in the past for its use of sweatshop labour and its lack of transparency in environmental matters, the Colin Kaepernick campaign helped to win over support from left-leaning groups who might otherwise snub Nike entirely.


Businesses considering their own position on these emotive matters can be understandably deterred by the negative backlash that occurs from the other side of the fence. A huge surge in support from one group of people can appear to be met with boycotts from the other.

The question to ask is: will your brand see a greater ROI by gaining trust and support from people on one side, than it will by keeping quiet in order to please everybody?

Sitting on the fence might feel like the safest position, but when consumers are actively looking to spend money with brands who are aligned with their values, failing to show your own moral decisions and to act on them can mean you get lost in the crowd.

64% of consumers around the world are belief-driven in their purchases, and 60% say brands should make it easier to see their values and position on important issues at the point of sale.

Whether you’re defining your purpose, offering a cultural connection or engaging in unapologetic activism, people want to know what your brand stands for. To create trust, loyalty and advocacy, sitting on the fence is not enough.


Tabby Farrar is a Senior Outreach Specialist at Further Digital Marketing, working on international PR and SEO campaigns for clients in a range of industries.