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Brand Integrity in the Wake of Charlottesville: How to Respond?

August 18th, 2017   ||    by Callie Wheeler   ||    No Comments

Brand integrity is a growing concern in light of national and global current events. With tragedies like the domestic terror attack at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, companies and executives find themselves faced with choices that have both political and brand implications.

In the past, campaigns were developed months in advance, and brands lacked the agility necessary to respond to cultural and political events. However, today’s brands must be ready to quickly address current events—and at times, take a stand for what they believe.

When Politics Become Unavoidable

President Trump’s controversial response to the tragedy in Charlottesville prompted several members of the American Manufacturing Council to quit. The council’s only African-American member, Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier, quit on August 14, saying he was stepping down to “take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” according to The Huffington Post. Two more members followed suit the same day: Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

The president ultimately dissolved the council, but not before those executives and several others had communicated their values through their resignations. Executives are representatives of their companies, and their leadership is a key component of brand integrity and identity.

(And even more recently, as of August 18th, 16 members of the White House Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in protest of President Trump’s recent rhetoric and actions.)

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Unfortunately, there are plenty of bad examples of brand responses too. While advertisers and marketers are likely unaware of the insensitivity of certain posts and promotions, this doesn’t temper their negative effect.

Dodge had been running a series of social media promotions for races near Detroit, Michigan, with the hashtag #RoadkillNights. The backlash against Dodge after the violence in Charlottesville on August 12 was swift, according to Bloomberg, with many criticizing the brand for leaving the promotions up, noting that a Dodge Challenger was the vehicle used to kill one protester and injure 19 others.

Twitter is an especially challenging platform for brands to navigate during politically charged events. AdvertisingAge reveals that many brands, including Twitter itself, had issues this week as users found the “business as usual” attitude inappropriate in light of the domestic tragedy and international terror attacks.

Integrity Is Intentional

Brands like TIKI Brand Products and the Detroit Red Wings issued timely statements to distance themselves from white nationalists and condemn racism, leaving no room for consumers to confuse their role in—or positions on—the violent alt-right protest.

At the end of the day, brand integrity isn’t an accident—it’s an intentional effort made by everyone, from the executives to the social media teams supporting them. Losing consumers’ respect and causing offense with trite, tone-deaf treatments of political issues—Pepsi, anyone?—is easier than many companies realize.

Maintaining a brand’s reputation by standing up for that brand’s values quickly and consistently is more—but it’s always the right thing to do.

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