Brands, Politics & Twitter

As election day looms closer and closer, social media managers across the country are hard at work, carefully strategizing and brainstorming new ways to position their brands into the bloody battleground that is our 2016 presidential election. Though it is a difficult area to navigate, the U.S. presidential election has dominated national discussion and interest, and if there’s one thing marketers know, it is to: be where where your consumers are.

But what exactly does that mean? The rise of social media has allowed for brands and corporations to comment on issues and events instantly — it was only a matter of time before the conversation turned political during this election cycle. But this particular topic presents its own unique obstacles and challenges. This election is stunningly divisive, with supporters from each end of the political spectrum having distinctly opposing views on social, economic, and political issues, and even more passionate arguments over the candidates themselves. Platforms like Twitter gives everybody a voice to weigh in on these issues, and that includes brands and corporations. However, in entering these discussions, brands must tread carefully in order to not alienate current or potential customers, while still remaining relevant and of the moment to their audience.

Active Participation

This past year has seen an unprecedented amount of brands and companies participating in the political arena in varying manners. For an election cycle that has been so negative, hostile, and frankly unprecedented, brands see an unique opportunity to capitalize on the woes of many Americans and offer some light-hearted and relevant relief. Perhaps the best example would be Excedrin, a company primarily known for their headache and migraine pain relief. Leading up to the third presidential debate, the brand played up on the general feeling of anger and frustration that has plagued the presidential debates and sent out a series of promoted tweets featuring #DebateHeadache, the first of which read: “The possibility of a #DebateHeadache is high. Be prepared with Excedrin”

Excedrin Debate Headache Tweet

As a result, Excedrin benefited from 46,000 Twitter mentions, #DebateHeadache spiked 602% during the debate compared to the prior hour, and the company was subject to much praise from Twitter users and media outlets alike. Here, Excedrin was able to successfully to fit their brand into the national dialogue seamlessly without seeming out of place or leaning towards one political party or the other.

Other brands have too found similar success, particularly during the presidential debates. Merriam-Webster has had an active presence on Twitter this election season, often helping users decipher the meaning behind tricky words or phrases mentioned by the candidates during the debates. After Trump mentioned “some bad hombres” during the final debate, searches for hombre, ombre, and ombré spiked and Merriam-Webster was readily available to clear up any confusion.

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However, it is important to note that such political commentary can be dangerous and damaging for other brands. Misplaced participation by certain brands can seem opportunistic, out of place, and even offensive at times. In these instances, it is best to avoid involving yourself in these discussions to not damage your brand. Bisquick is one such example. Primarily known for its pancake batter mix, Bisquick hosted a live Q&A on Twitter during the second debate, urging users to tweet at them or use #PancakesvsWaffles to ask questions. The breakfast brand was definitely not suited to field questions regarding sexual assault and immigration and they were rightfully bashed on by Twitter users.

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Unwilling Participation

On the other end of the spectrum, many brands choose to actively avoid joining the political discourse but often find themselves accidentally involved. This political round has unfortunately claimed small mints and candies as their innocent victims. Earlier this year, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out a photo that compared refugees to Skittles with text that read “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you just take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” To shake off the unwanted and negative association with the brand, Mars, the manufacturer of Skittles, promptly released the following statement on Twitter.

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Despite not initially involving themselves with the election, Skittles was able to use social media to take a stance on the issue without damaging their brand. Tic Tacs also found itself in a similar situation. After Trump mentioned that he would use Tic Tacs before he forcefully kissed women without their consent, the brand tweeted out this response:

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Takeaways

The takeaway here is that brands must carefully navigate when crossing over into political territory, whether the move is intentional or not. For many brands, the presidential election presents itself as the perfect opportunity to be relevant for the millions of users who are actively engaged in political discourse on social media, particularly Twitter. While this may be a viable and ultimately successful endeavor for some brands, other brands should do themselves a favor and seriously question whether or not they can or should be politically relevant. For brands that find themselves to be the unwilling participants of this vicious election cycle, social media is a viable platform to set the record straight and shake off any unwanted associations. How these brands react to the results of the election (this post was written the day before) will hopefully bring us some more good content to retweet.

8 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I loved the examples of how companies are leveraging the election to create marketing campaigns, etc. I am glad you included both positive and negative examples of how the election has impacted brands- even unwillingly such as the Skittles example. I think it is a fine line for brands to get involved in politically driven campaigns… as it can be very dangerous when considered by the consumer. If you create a campaign that is mis-representative or consumers disagree with, you have the potential to really turn off loyal consumers to the brand all together. I believe that it may be better and more beneficial for companies, especially if they do not relate to politics, to avoid politically driven advertisements and marketing campaigns. Overall, really great post- interesting perspective!

  2. It’s really interesting that there are a few blogs this week about essentially this topic. I retweeted a video from IZOD today, sneaking in one last Ken Bone promo before the election was over (https://twitter.com/desmonco/status/796040210698174464 ). As you noted, brands that have been able to capitalize upon this have definitely been the big winners.

    I had never seen the Bisquick incident, but am not surprised by the fact that the internet retaliated for companies trying to advantage themselves of this election. But as you noted, at least they had some idea of what they were getting into. I sincerely feel bad for brand managers that were impacted by Trump’s campaign, what an unpopular situation to have to deal with.

    Great post!

  3. katieInc_ · ·

    Great post! I remember seeing the Excedrin advertisement during the second presidential debate and thought that was an absolutely genius idea. It positions itself well because no matter what side of the debate a person stands, the vast majority can agree that the arguing and bickering is bothersome and annoying to listen to..and can even cause a headache.

    Something I watched closely throughout the election season is how theSkimm, a daily newsletter, worked to remain neutral. Though they are a news source which should inherently remain unbiased, they maintain their own brand and unique following to which they must market themselves. Instead of taking a position on the election, they focused on highlighting the importance of voting. This example proves that regardless of product, brand, industry, etc. all businesses can address the election in a manner that enhances their brand.

  4. polmankevin · ·

    Awesome blog! I totally understand why companies take a shot at marketing during polarizing events, but they definitely have to tread lightly. I really like the way Excedrin and Merriam-Webster handled their advertisements. But for every marketing attempt that correctly handles a tricky situation there are countless others that fail miserably. Some brands are better off staying out of tricky situations. Just because an event generates buzz doesn’t mean that your product is an appropriate fit. I also, like how you talked about brands that were dragged into the conversation. This is usually a bigger headache than benefit for these companies, but they are marketing opportunities nonetheless.

  5. Great post! Really interesting to hear about brands who have done really well marketing in the election, and those who haven’t. It is definitely a reminder to brands that they should be wary in contributing commentary to current events, as their marketing efforts can be misconstrued or even irrelevant to what’s happening. I think this election was especially difficult to engage with because of the extremely strong opinions on both sides of the debate, so it speaks volumes to the brands that were able to successfully market their brands. Great post!

  6. Nice summary of some of the social media highlights of the campaign.

  7. mashamydear · ·

    Interesting post! I wasn’t really thinking about brands and their opportunities for reach during this election (probably because I was too focused on the election itself), but brand managers have probably been thinking about the content in your post a lot. I think the smartest move is definitely to stay out of it unless your consumers tend to lean towards a political party, or like you said, when Trump makes some heinous comment that implicates your brand somehow. At the same time, brands that did speak out were probably able to build more of an emotional/self-expressive connection with their consumer than otherwise would have been possible. For example, people probably like Mars since they own a bunch of different delicious candy brands, but besides that there’s not too much of an emotional connection. After reading the aforementioned tweet however, people can get the sense that Mars supports refugees and that this is a brand that is respectable.

  8. Great post. It’s hard to take notice that brands are doing so much to be involved (or not so involved) in the presidential election cycle. Surprisingly, I am more content with the unwilling participation of companies like Mars and Tic Tac, which made such great statements to avoid being misinterpreted as a company and what they stand for. What I would be interested in finding out would be which brands get the most amount of success through willing participation and which ones have received the least. Analyzing why could be huge for companies to learn how they should market themselves every four years. Thanks for sharing!

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