Should Companies Get Political?
The Domino Effect of Political Advocacy in Company Branding
Pandora’s box has been opened and politics are everywhere. Notably, companies have begun to publicly express their political views as branding strategies. Nike highlighted Colin Kaepernick in their ads last year in protest to police brutality and racial injustice, Dicks and Walmart limited sales of guns in their stores, Gucci promoted pro-choice by including the message “My Body, My Choice” on the backs of clothing during their Cruise 2020 fashion show. It is not surprising why companies have been hopping on this bandwagon. Studies show that political branding as a marketing strategy is highly profitable. Younger consumers in particular expect the companies they support to stand for something larger than themselves. They expect the company's ideals to align with their own and they expect them to be vocal about it.
The list continues, but take a moment to notice one thing about all these messages. They are all left-leaning social issues.
The Harvard Business Review published the results of a study which further explored the impact of companies speaking out on political and social issues. Their sample was a mixed group of liberals, moderates and conservatives of all ages. They found that companies who spoke out about liberal issues were perceived in the same way as when they didn’t speak out. However, when companies spoke out supporting conservative issues, the sample across the board perceived them in a considerably worse light.
While this perception is neither the fault of liberal-leaning companies nor conservative-leaning companies, it highlights a big difference in what expressed beliefs are publicly acceptable. These findings enable an entire belief system to be expressed with freedom while another is suppressed completely. Again, this is not the fault of companies on either side, but it allows the dominoes to continue to fall in one direction.
We must consider the effect this public advocacy has on the current and potential employees at these companies.
A study conducted on “political misfits” in the workplace shows that if a conservative employee is in the minority in their political leanings, they are less likely to stay at that company than a liberal “misfit.” These findings suggest that conservative-majority companies won’t lose their liberal employees, while liberal-majority companies will lose their conservative employees.
Let’s take Patagonia. Recently Patagonia, who has been outspoken about climate change in the past, printed “vote out the a**holes” on the tags of their apparel. While this is hilarious and probably very reaffirming for a liberal employee at Patagonia, what about an employee who may be a Trump supporter? They likely wouldn’t stick around. How long until a big company like Patagonia only represents the liberal voice?
For industries that lean left, this study has huge implications. This phenomenon is likely to create entire companies whose employees share the exact same ideology. The tech industry, for example, who is historically thought to be majority-liberal will continue to drive away the conservatives until they comprise liberal thinkers alone. Since Trump was elected, the tech industry has begun speaking out fervently against some of the President’s political stances. The tech industry is one of the most ideologically powerful industries in the world. What could that mean if they are excluding an entire population of thinkers in their decision making processes?
Netflix as a prime example of what could happen if we don’t rethink political diversity in our corporations. Netflix is consistently the leader of streaming services in the United States, and by wide margins.
And here is the threat: 98% of Netflix employee donations go to democrats. This presents not only a diversity issue but now an existential crisis as well. Should companies have that much political pull? A company who represents only half the population is controlling and now creating the content which the majority of the country is absorbing. We have to assume that they are, consciously or unconsciously, leaving out content that does not align with their political leanings. This is a huge cause for concern.
This social advocacy and lack of political diversity in businesses may seem like a battle not worth fighting for the moment, but to give you a glimpse of where this could go, let’s look again at Patagonia. In 2018, Patagonia endorsed two Democratic senate members, and recently they have recommended voting Democratic for 22 different senate seats. Patagonia does not outwardly lean Democratic, they stand for policy that recognizes and works towards helping the climate crisis. However, when the two senators endorsed by Patagonia in 2018 won, it was determined that Patagonia’s support helped secure their wins. While there are surely many other factors involved, it’s concerning that companies may have the power to determine political outcomes, but perhaps not in equal capacities.
We are at a time where companies are trying to diversify their workplaces, aiming for equal numbers of men and women and working towards decreasing the racial discrepancy in the workplace. Should we not be trying to diversify politically as well? Since politics has entered into every sector of civilization, maybe it’s something worth considering.
- Emily Menges, Editor in Chief