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Playing Politics In Business

DISCLAIMER: This post contains political topics. I am not going to debate the merits of the topics themselves; this post talks of a brand’s response to an issue. You can replace guns with any topic you wish and the argument stands.

Thursday, the outdoors equipment retailer, REI, decided they needed to be in the pro-gun/anti-gun debate.

If you’re keeping track, that list includes Delta, United Airlines, Enterprise Holdings, Dicks Sporting Goods, Walmart, Kroger, MetLife — and now REI.

It is beyond puzzling why a giant corporation decides to jump into political hot-button issues where they are likely to alienate half of their base.

It is possible to have an opinion or personal stance about a topic without issuing a statement and changing corporate policies. In this case, REI will not do business with vendors whose parent company sells or manufactures guns. Delta ended its association with the NRA and stopped offering discounted rates on flights. Dicks Sporting Goods announced it would stop selling “assault style rifles” — something it hasn’t widely done in years.

Do these actions reflect the views of the employees? Executives? Shareholders? Company values? What, or who, is the driving motivator of these announcements?

Have customers — a sizable amount, not the loud, fraction-of-a-percent population — called for change?

When your company takes a stand, it should be in alignment with your values. While entirely within their rights, unilaterally deciding to raise the required age to purchase a product is neither in line with Walmart values nor does it add a meaningful solution to a deeper societal issue.

However, it does put them in the headlines, which I believe is the true motivation behind many of these announcements.

Brands are so obsessed with the attention and free media coverage, they inject themselves into issues unnecessarily and inappropriately.

Taking advantage of newsworthy topics for publicity is nothing new. David Meerman Scott popularized the term and tactic newsjacking. But newsjacking isn’t finding a way to squeeze your brand into the conversation. It is having a meaningful contribution to the conversation. A contribution that adds value to the debate, not one that distracts from it.

Picking sides on politically-charged issues is more than risky. These brands are playing with fire and are already seeing the results.

After Delta announced it would end the NRA incentives, law makers in Georgia, where Delta Airlines is based, voted down a tax break that would have saved Delta $38-$40 million annually.

The number of NRA-discounted tickets they had sold?


Does the airline believe, which such conviction, that their ties with the NRA (which, if were honest, how many people even knew about before they announced they were ending it?) would cost them more than $40 million in lost passengers?

People have the right to vote with their wallets. But I am willing to bet most consumers would have continued flying on Delta none the wiser had they not even brought up the issue.

Brands, it is possible to have a position within your company. Go for it! That is the beauty of business in America.

But be very careful which political stage you decide to dance on. Your motives should be inline with your constant brand message. It should be no surprise when you take a stand on an issue because is clearly evident in your company values and messaging.

Never jump on a news story just for the publicity.

As we’re learning, no longer is all publicity good.

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

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