Lane: Businesses should be involved in politics


By Joe Lane

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Politics has always been intertwined with business. Wealthy leaders of prominent companies constantly make donations to political campaigns they feel will benefit their company or their lifestyle. This has simply become a reality of the political climate. However, Donald Trump’s young presidency has provided another way for politics to play a role in the success or failure of a business beyond traditional policy implementation.
When Trump’s travel ban went into effect, consumer-facing companies with a large presence in the minds of the public had a decision to make: oppose Trump, support Trump, or do nothing. But the reality is, for any smart business, doing nothing is no longer an option.

In marketing, there is a difficult balance a company must strike in the face of tragedy or controversy. Take, for example, the death of Carrie Fisher. When the actress died Dec. 27, Cinnabon tweeted an edited image of Fisher with the caption, “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy,” a reference to her famous hairstyle in the Star Wars movies.

The company came under fire for the insensitive tweet and was forced to apologize. Although Cinnabon, no doubt, meant no harm by the statement, the people there made the mistake of using Fisher’s death as a marketing opportunity. Perhaps Cinnabon would have been better served by staying out of this conversation or making a more matter-of-fact statement like Skittles’ comment following Donald Trump Jr.’s metaphor referencing the company.

After Donald Trump Jr. made a comparison between Skittles and refugees, many were looking for Skittles to post a quippy response. What they got? A simple message from Skittles: “Skittles are candy; refugees are people. It’s an inappropriate analogy. We respectfully refrain from further comment, as that could be misinterpreted as marketing.” Brilliant. However, when competition speaks up, it’s impossible to stay silent.

The best example of this is the rapidly trending hashtag, #deleteUBER. When Trump’s ban went into effect, Uber’s primary competitor, Lyft, responded by donating $1 million to the Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Uber’s response? Implement surge pricing in areas where protests were taking place. Uber’s response was widely publicized alongside Lyft’s, which resulted in the Uber app being deleted more than 200,000 times from smart phones, according to a study done by the New York Times.

Uber did nothing but allow its algorithm for surge pricing to take over, and it is paying the price for appearing to support Trump’s cowardly ban on refugees. Uber has since responded in a number of ways. First and foremost, CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from Trump’s economic advisory council. Uber has also since set aside $3 million to help in the defense of its drivers that may be hurt by the ban.

With a president as controversial as Trump, it opens the door for businesses to benefit from or be hurt by their actions and inactions. It would appear, however, that inaction is truly the only option that no longer flies.

Respected companies across a number of industries had responses to Trump’s ban and have since benefited from consumers’ respect for their marketing message. And while no comment is better than one that is perceived as negative or offensive, marketers undeniably face a challenge they never have before. Rather than answering to angry letters and emails, companies answer to the widespread disapproval now found on social media.

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