Will brands be forced to take sides in a more polarized marketplace?
Being apolitical may no longer be an option for brands in the Trump era.
During the US presidential campaign, bookings at Trump hotel properties saw a whopping 60 percent decline. This was a result of customers voting with their wallets. Indeed, the Trump brand became so damaged that the company is introducing a new hotel brand, Scion, that completely avoids the president-elect’s name.
The question is, will this sort of thing happen to more brands in a era when American society is so politically polarized and the next four years promise to be tumultuous? Already there are calls for boycotts of companies whose executives expressed support for Trump — New Balance is the most prominent example so far.
People are lighting their New Balance sneakers on fire over comments the company made about Donald Trump https://t.co/1aGvtCfIVZ
— CNN (@CNN) November 11, 2016
Clearly Trump has many supporters all over the US, and open support for him and his administration may cut the other way as well — translating into improved sales. However, this is precisely my point: it may be difficult for brands to remain apolitical and sit on the sidelines over the next four years.
Companies marketing to millennials in particular may be forced to take public positions in opposition to some of the values and policies that the incoming Trump administration has proclaimed. Fewer than 40 percent of millennials supported Trump, according to post-election data. And activists may “out” companies that are trying to remain neutral but whose executives are involved with or supportive of the Trump administration.
All of this remains to be seen. The emotion and outpouring of protest following Trump’s surprise victory may soon die down, and we could settle into an environment less charged for brands. However, I don’t believe that’s going to happen unless both sides make a conscious and concerted effort to come together in some way. The chances of that are relatively slim.
America is more divided than it has been at any time, arguably, since the US Civil War, according to various studies. Urban voters supported Clinton; rural voters supported Trump. The society broke in the election along demographic, racial and cultural lines. Clinton won the popular vote by a significant margin; Trump won the Electoral College and the presidency.
This climate of controversy and conflict will unavoidably affect brands and brand perceptions. Brands that pretend nothing is going on may suffer for their perceived indifference; those that openly support one side or another may see boycotts and protests accordingly.
The next four years could be perilous for everyone, including brands.