One of the more interesting and telling aspects of the 2016 Presidential election has been a bit skimmed over in my opinion. Apparently people feel like international diplomacy, conflicts of interest, cabinet choices, and recounts are more important. Go figure! However, as we look back on the election that was, I think we will see a pivotal moment where politics and brand marketing met in unexpected ways. The meeting was made possible by social media, particularly Twitter. The 2016 election showed unequivocally that brands are going to have to monitor advertisements during political seasons as much as the politicians themselves, and knowing how, or whether, to respond will have to be determined by a strategic plan decided upon months in advance.
How Skittles and Tic Tac became political pawns
Two brands in particular that became pioneers in this new world were Skittles and Tic Tacs.
Skittles was mentioned back in September 2016 as Donald Trump, Jr., tried to use the candy to explain the Trump Campaign’s position on refugees and immigrants. CNN summarize’s the comments here. Clicking to the CNN page, you will note, features a headline with Skittles prominently featured. As a brand, free PR can often be seen as a Godsend. But what happens if the context in which you’re mentioned is a) Not positive and b) Completely out of your control?
The Mars company, owners of the Skittles brand, were faced with quite a conundrum. Their brand was being used to portray what many considered a very negative and inappropriate message. However, the brand was also getting free mentions on CNN and most other news outlets. Mars easily could have decided to stay neutral on the subject and let the game play out. However, as CNN reported about a week later, Skittles decided to respond this way:
All of this occurred on the Twitter platform (you know, the social media platform that has been consigned to death for about two years).
Tic Tac was perhaps in an even less enviable position. The brand was mentioned in THAT video featuring Trump’s rather lewd comments about women. Again, the brand had an important decision to make. The video was already a decade or so old, and the brand itself was not directly involved with anything having to do with the scandal. The brand was getting mentions throughout the media as part of the commentary on the now infamous video, but like Mars, they could have decided to ride out the storm and remain neutral. Instead, like Mars, Tic Tac decided to respond, as AdWeek reported in October.
How do you know when or whether to respond?
Moving forward, brands are going to be faced with instances like these MORE often, not less. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, I’m not Mars. Why would anyone mention me?”
Consider the following very possible hypothetical. Let’s say a local politician visits your manufacturing plant. While there, he or she gives a speech and to show their friendship for local manufacturers, they offer criticisms of their opponent that hedge on inappropriate. Perhaps after their visit they post a picture of your plant and send out a tweet about how their opponent falls short in helping folks like you, and again, borderline appropriate language is used. Now your company is appearing next to these controversial remarks, both in traditional media and on social media. What do you do?
Most of this follows the same lines of preparing for a PR crisis. The only difference is that instead of a faux pas directly caused or related to your brand, these instances are happenstance and matters of fate. That almost makes them more frightening. However, executing a similar process as you did for creating your PR crisis strategy (which you have done, right?) can help.
- Make sure you know who your brand is and what you stand for on major and minor issues of the day. By “you” I mean everyone at your company, from the welders to the CEO. This will help inform whether and how you will respond to scenarios in the political realm.
- Determine who will respond, if the decision is made to respond. We don’t know who crafted those responses for Mars and Tic Tac, but clearly a decision was made that those responses should be posted by somebody. When time is of the essence in a platform like Twitter, that person needs to be chosen and ready to go.
- Determine your process for how you will craft the response. Again, time is of the essence. If Mars had gotten bogged down in bureaucracy and had responded a month later, it would have been too late. The same holds true for Tic Tac. Have your response team ready and be ready to approve any posts quickly.
Needless to say, someone needs to be “listening” online now to make sure that any mentions of your brand, positive or negative, are noted and responded to appropriately. Had one of the candidates tweeted, “Skittles really is keeping me going,” Mars would have had to decide how to respond to that as well. Again, this is something that brands now need to be ready for as we continue in this age of politics and brand marketing meeting.
Are you ready to enter the realm of political campaigns? No matter the size of your company, in this day and age you NEED to be ready. Contact us if you would like assistance in jumping into the fray.
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/outtacontext/4764160724/ via Creative Commons