Brands: Be Bold or Stay Safe?

Patagonia. Pepsi. Airbnb. Nike.

What do they have in common? They all took a political stand on a topic through their websites and advertisements. Did they all succeed? Nope.

The past few years have bubbled with controversial topics and debates due in part to our volatile political and social climate.

This can create opportunities for brands to make a profit by appealing to specific audiences through highly targeted, often controversial stands.

However, it doesn’t always hit the mark. When the tactic misses, it can harm a brand’s overall perception.

With so much at risk, should brands even make political stands? According to a survey by Sprout Social, two-thirds of consumers want brands to state their beliefs.

On top of this, 50 percent of consumers are making belief-driven purchases. As for Millennials, 60 percent are belief-driven buyers. These consumers are more likely to be loyal to and advocate for a brand that shares their same values.

Let’s take a look at Pepsi’s Live for Now campaign. This advertisement featured model Kendall Jenner prepping for a high-fashion shoot. She notices protesters taking to the streets with vague signs such as “Peace” and “Join the Conversation.”

She is then pulled into the march by a fellow protester as she rips off her blond wig and wipes off her red lipstick.

She picks up a Pepsi as she joins the movement and eventually makes her way to the front of the incredibly peaceful protest where the police are standing in unison. She then hands her drink to an officer which he opens, takes a sip and everyone begins to cheer.

(Photo credit: Empire BBK)

The issue with this ad was it tried to leverage recent protests that have been prominent, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. These protests have not ended with everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya.

Pepsi failed to recognize how the ad would play to viewers. The ad made it appear that the current protests were not serious and that these issues could be solved with a simple solution — like sharing a Pepsi.

(Photo credit:

Heineken took a similar approach and nailed it with its “Worlds Apart” ad.

This advertisement featured several strangers put into team building exercises in pairs. Throughout the ad, the individuals gained respect for their partner as they worked on each project. At the end, it was revealed that the other person had completely different viewpoints on social and political beliefs than their own.

This created some obvious tension between each pair. The partners were then given the option to stay, have a drink and discuss their differences, or leave. Each person stayed and discussed their ideas.

Heineken pulled this off because, unlike Pepsi, it didn’t position its drink as a solution to world peace. Instead, the brand posed its drink as a “bridge” to generate discussions that lead toward understanding.

(Photo credit:  The Pretty Patriot)

When done right, brands should make their political and social beliefs known. When a company truly understands what its audiences believe, want and need, a controversial ad can build loyalty and is beneficial in the long-run.

In a world with so much contention, should brands play it safe or be bold?

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