“Brands in the democratic storm,” by Florent Dubos

Dozens of major brands and companies have reacted to the events of January 6, 2021: speaking out on social networks, advertising spots, suspending political donations, stopping subsidies to certain Republican senators, firing rioters, the list goes on.  Beyond the reactions of various platforms to Donald Trump – from Twitter to Facebook/Instagram via YouTube, Shopify, Spotify, Twitch, Snapchat – and the questions they raise, it is interesting to look at how brands reacted to these events.

In the aftermath of the events, a study showed that almost half of consumers had a more positive image of brands condemning the riots, while 43% said they would buy more from these brands (source: Morning Consult/Politico).  Ben & Jerry’s, a brand traditionally very involved in societal struggles, posted an unequivocal tweet:

The tweet generated 500K likes, compared to a few hundred for their normal posts.

Many CEOs of American companies have spoken out against the violence: Mary Barra at General Motors, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Verizon, American Express, Boeing, AT&T, UPS, Axe ౼ the list of companies and brands that have spoken out on this issue is long. Does this mark a turning point or was it an embarrassment for American brands? What is certain is that in a deeply divided and even fractured country, this statement is not self-evident and is not without potential consequences for their business, as support for the riots remains high among Republican voters.

This shows the extent of the shock felt and perhaps also the impossibility for brands and companies not to speak out on crucial political issues. Through their digital presence, these brands are increasingly part of people’s daily lives ౼ so how can they  be active on social networks for every holiday (National Ice Cream  Day, Hug Day, etc.) and not react to an attempted coup.

How did we let this happen?

Communication has always gone hand in hand with societal transformations, sometimes even anticipating them. Brands that traditionally speak to consumers now speak to citizens (or at least to consumers and citizens). Brands that traditionally sold a product, at times adding a societal commitment, are now speaking in support of democratic values and principles.

Is it the intrinsic force of the events, the power of the images and the reality of the threat that has pushed so many, diverse and economically important actors to speak out?

Or are we witnessing a gradual shift in brand engagement from societal to political?

This evolution, not of doctrine, but of digital platform practices, towards speeches calling for anti-democratic insurrection is already a sign (even if it does, to some degree, anticipate threats to American legislation).

Can brands engage in the democratic struggle ?

This question may seem irrelevant, but who would have bet 30 years ago that these same brands would commit to the environment, diversity or parity? Back then, it was widely considered that brands or companies could not legitimately “chime in.”. Meanwhile, today we talk about companies with a mission, committed brands, and “purpose.”

So let’s forget for a moment about their legitimacy and look at their interests.

Because brands are both market leaders and opinion leaders, they rally around their values to win over new consumers. What if democracy is the new brand value?

By Florent Dubos, partner at Antidox, founder of superworks.fr and Brandism