Should brands speak out on social issues?

In September, Nike launched a marketing campaign featuring blacklisted NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pseudo-motivational tagline: Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. The controversial strategy shocked investors – and some digital and social media marketing professionals – and inspired calls for a boycott, but within weeks online sales had jumped by more than 30 per cent and stock prices reached an all-time high.

As Marketing Land contributor Matt Crush explained in a recent article, the Kaepernick campaign was a risk, but not an uncalculated one. Nike knows its customers and believed a political statement would encourage brand loyalty. Following the campaign’s release, purchasing Nike products became a political statement.

In a polarized society, marketing professionals must carefully consider when and if to make political statements. Speaking out on controversial issues is risky – but so is remaining silent.

“The emerging consensus among marketers is that in the current climate brands are no longer able to “remain on the sidelines” and are compelled to stake out positions on controversial social issues,” writes Greg Sterling in a separate Marketing Land article.

The digital marketing sphere presents ample opportunity for brands to establish a political voice. Many companies use social media marketing to support important causes or raise concerns about troubling issues. Others rely on their company blog or newsletter to broadcast social values. Both scenarios offer the necessary space to communicate nuanced opinions – no such flexibility exists with paid search or paid social ads.

As a Google Premier Partner digital and social marketing agency with access to valuable insights on Google’s preferred practices, GrowthEngine Media aims to be an adaptable and reliable partner for our clients. In addition to our deep expertise in paid search, social media, SEO, and content management, our team can provide guidance and advice for navigating controversial social issues.