MediaPost: Are You Ready for Some Politics? As NFL Season Starts, Get Ready For Your Brand to Be Pulled into the Debate

By Joe Maceda, Chief Instigation Officer, U.S.

It’s easier than ever for a brand to make consumers angry — and it has nothing to do with customer service.

This summer, after Stephanie Wilkinson, co-owner of the Lexington, Va. restaurant Red Hen, asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to leave her restaurant because of Sanders’ support for the Trump administration’s immigration policies, the restaurant faced a severe backlash from a wide swath of the red half of the country. Wilkinson was forced to shut down the restaurant for two weeks to let things die down.

This incident might have given us a term for an increasingly common occurrence: “to be red-henned”: to be attacked en masse by an ideological faction for your brand’s or business’ values (whether actual or perceived).

As societies across the globe grow more and more polarized, it’s growing ever more likely that brands will be drawn into conflict with some cultural faction. From Harley-Davidson getting lambasted by the president for shifting some production overseas to Samantha Bee’s advertisers facing calls for boycott, in many cases brands won’t have a choice on whether or not to pick sides in the culture wars.

It won’t necessarily just be political factions, either. What happens if your Marvel movie partnership sparks outrage among DC Comics diehards? Or an endorsement deal with Katy Perry ignites fury among Swifties?

Every choice a marketer makes now comes fraught with an unintended “purpose” that might agitate potential customers.

And that means any cultural moment could become the marketing equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, as entangled partnerships and alliances force brands into picking sides in a culture war and facing the ensuing backlash.

Right now, football fans and consumers worldwide are abuzz over Nike’s new Colin Kaepernick campaign. And the next major flashpoint is likely to be the opening of the NFL regular season, as the league’s new rules about protests take effect (whatever the compromise with the Players’ Association), and reactions pour in from both the right and the left.

If you are an NFL sponsor — or a competitor of one — it’s critical to be prepared for your brand to be red-henned. Here’s how.

Know Your Risk

Assess your current customer base to understand where it lands on the political (or cultural spectrum). Knowing who your current customers are can help brands to know what the risk (or upside) is to being seen as on a particular “side” of an issue.

When the Red Hen re-opened after its two-week hiatus, The Washington Post reported a surge in business. Perhaps the Red Hen had enough liberal support to make up for a potential loss in conservative customers and then some.

Harley-Davidson seems to have weathered the storm of the president’s negative tweets, perhaps because of the strength of their connection to their consumers. If we look at hypothetical examples, might a tequila brand or more international food chains be immune from backlash after taking a pro-immigration stand, given the very nature of their products.

To read the rest, including the creation of a “Red Hen” media action plan, check out the full article on MediaPost.