The Purchase Is Political

By: Amber Lopez

The Purchase Is Political

In 2017, the personal became political in a big way, with many people taking to the streets to protest for the first time. Politics have become a part of mainstream culture, from the #MeToo movement to the entrance of more and more celebrities into politics -- and into the White House. In this increasingly political climate, writers at Ad Week, Forbes, and many more, have argued that brands can no longer afford to remain apolitical. In its "2017 Earned Brand Study," Edelman found that 50% of global buyers now "buy on belief." These buyers tend to be younger, more affluent, and more brand-loyal, so there is a lot to gain for brands staking a political claim.

Not all political marketing is created equal. Lifestyle brands like Patagonia and Warby Parker have perhaps the best opportunity to engage in politically-aligned marketing because the issues they support are integrated into their brand identities and foundations. Their engagement is believable because their company policies and brand strategy are aligned. In December, Patagonia's CEO, Rose Marcario, wrote a Time op-ed in which she denounced the President's reduction of two national monuments in Utah, and vowed to sue Trump to block this move. She cited not only the company's legal and business-related reasons for opposing the reduction, but also its responsibility as a "benefit corporation" and a grassroots partner in defending public lands.

Warby Parker has signed amicus briefs in opposition to the travel ban, and in support of transgender rights. While these causes are not directly tied to Warby Parker's core philanthropy of donating a pair of glasses for each pair purchased, its company culture suggests a much larger philanthropic scope: "Our customers, employees, community and environment are our stakeholders. We consider them in every decision that we make."

In its "2017 Earned Brand Study," Edelman found that 50% of global buyers now "buy on belief." These buyers tend to be younger, more affluent, and more brand-loyal, so there is a lot to gain for brands staking a political claim.

While such serious political involvement is not appropriate for all brands, giants like Heineken, Expedia, GE, and Hyatt launched 2017 ad campaigns that promote messages of understanding and inclusivity, without taking an explicitly political position.

Despite the possible benefits, all politically motivated marketing carries a risk of alienating some consumers. Therefore, embarking on a new strategy requires a brand to seriously consider its values and commitments. The most successful politically-motivated marketing campaigns do not stand alone. Whatever stance a brand takes, for it to be successful, it must carry its message into its business practices. It is also important for brands to know their customers -- not just what products they buy, but why they buy them, what they care about, and who they aspire to be.

No brand can afford to avoid politics or social movements entirely anymore. Understanding the current climate that customers are in, and what types of businesses they want to support, are questions that all brands should be asking in 2018, as consumers' purchasing increasingly becomes political.

At Murphy Research, we strive to uncover enduring insights that place immediate gains in the context of long-term brand strategy and offer a variety of research methods to help brands understand not just specific consumer needs, but consumers' root motivations. With customized research and wide-ranging expertise, you can rely on us to help you answer the tough questions in 2018.