WASHINGTON, DC: Donald Trump’s divisive presidency is forcing brands to take sides and risk a consumer backlash from his supporters or opponents – but some of those distancing themselves from the president have seen a boost in brand perception.

The president’s response to last weekend’s clashes between white nationalists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville resulted in the CEOs of Merck & Co., Intel and Under Armour quitting the American Manufacturing Council at the start of the week, before the body was subsequently disbanded altogether.

Back in February, Under Armour was widely criticised on social media after CEO Kevin Plank enthusiastically endorsed the Trump presidency. But his decision to leave the American Manufacturing Council appears to have produced the opposite effect.

According to social analytics company Brandwatch, sentiment since Sunday has been overwhelmingly positive at 89.4%.

The picture is similar for Intel (88.6% positive), Business Insider reported. Of the three which took the early decision to leave the council, only Merck & Co has seen mostly negative sentiment (69.2%), but that has to be seen against a background of Trump’s criticism on Twitter of CEO Kenneth Frazier and how Merck provides “ripoff drugs”.

Brandwatch explained people were criticizing Trump for singling out Merck and Frazier and not the other CEOs but the algorithm was unable to recognise that context. And as Frazier was the first to leave, he attracted more comment.

“It certainly appears to be a strategic maneuver from [Kevin] Plank [Under Armour CEO] and [Brian] Krzanich [Intel CEO] to announce their departure later in the evening when people are looking to relax and stray away from news updates,” noted Kellan Terry, Brandwatch’s PR data manager.

“I’d guess that they hoped their departures wouldn’t garner as much attention later at night, and it’s commonly witnessed on social media that backlash is greatest for the first deviation away from the expected.”

Even those CEOs arguing for continued engagement with the White House have been critical of the president’s response to Charlottesville.

Corporate America’s “strategy of the past 50 years has been to stay out of politics, and that was the right one”, Scott Galloway, marketing professor at NYU, told the Financial Times. “But if the CEO of Walmart can come out against this . . . that has changed.”

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff