Corporate America should avoid talking about Trump

Krystal Hu
President Trump’s attack on the NFL has raised questions among companies about how they should position themselves among political and cultural debates.

Companies have learned their lesson from consumer brands like Papa John’s and Under Armour which got themselves in trouble for taking political stands — Don’t talk about President Donald Trump.

When brands release a statement regarding Trump, whether it’s for or against him, they risk upsetting twice as many people as they could please, according to a Morning Consult report on Monday. When brands say something negative about Trump, 56% of Trump voters said they have a much less favorable view of the brand, while only 32% of Clinton voters said they would like the brand much more because of it. The same holds true for positive statements on Trump.

The report, which examines brands’ marketing strategies in the Trump era, comes at a time when almost every company faces a decision on whether to respond to Trump and get involved in heated social and political issues. In September, Trump trashed the NFL players’ protests during the national anthem. Out of 35 official sponsors, six companies responded to the attack. Another Morning Consult poll found that last year the NFL became one of the most divisive brands in the country.

“Companies just need to avoid talking about Trump and avoid getting involved in those topics,” said Anthony Patterson, director of communications for Morning Consult.

The U.S. president isn’t usually a part of a company’s marketing strategy, according to Allen Adamson, a branding expert and co-founder of Metaforce. Adamson advises brands to avoid polarizing political issues.

“From a consumer’s point of view, our experience has been it’s a no-win situation if you step on the third rail of U.S. presidential politics power right now,” said Adamson. “When people feel the government is not doing what they want, they look for alternative ways to have their opinions heard.”

Should companies stay out of politics?

60% of the respondents in the survey say corporations should stay away from political issues. (Credit/Morning Consult)

The report also suggests there are issues that are not as political, thus, less risky for brands to publicly offer an opinion on. For example, civil rights issues and criminal justice reform are less likely to create a stir among consumers than immigration and abortion.

But there is always a risk that even topics that are considered safe could be politicalized. Environmental issues used to be an area many companies were vocal about, but now taking a stance on global warming can also be extrapolated into a political point of view.

“It’s not always I support Trump or I’m against Trump. Even if you’re touching an issue that you think is reasonably safe, many of the issues are hard-wired to political issues,” Adamson said.

And the trend expands beyond the president. Sixty percent prefer corporations stick to what they do best and not get involved in politics, according to the Morning Consult survey. More than one-third of Americans think corporations already have more influence on politics and cultural conversations than they should.

Younger Americans, including millennials and Gen Z, are more open to brands’ efforts to shape politics and society. “Young people are voting with their wallets. For certain brands that target younger and urban consumers, if you don’t take a stand, you may be punished,” Adamson told Yahoo Finance.

Krystal Hu covers technology and economy for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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