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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.