Taking a strong point of view can be a risk for a brand in today’s tumultuous environment, but sometimes it’s unavoidable – and that’s when an understanding of brand values comes into its own.

Rather than settle for a quiet life, brands need to appreciate the dynamics of today’s political and social landscape if they are to carve a distinct path to better consumer engagement, according to Kristin Van Note, Strategy Director at Grey New York.

Ultimately, she argues in a WARC Best Practice paper, Brands in the age of division, “division itself has become the cultural conversation of our time”.

Making sense of that may require more than what she describes as “togetherness ads” which attempt to unify people over divisive social issues.

Political division is such that even small executional missteps can be followed by a stream of social media conversations that skewer them as viewers call out ads for being tone-deaf, insensitive, or racist.

“In this tenuous era, brands may be more vulnerable than they think,” Van Note says. “Well-meaning, innocuous messages of hope may not simply fall on deaf ears, but instead add fuel to the fire.”

So why make political or togetherness-related messages at all, she asks?

A survey of 1,000 people in the US, by Lightspeed for Grey, sought to understand attitudes towards such ads.

Consumer views were divided along age lines, with the youngest groups most valuing brands that address issues they care about – even if they’re also most sceptical about brands and advertising to start with.

And for those brands taking a stand and taking action, the brand lift that follows is not necessarily accompanied by an equivalent sales lift, she reports.

New Balance, she adds, didn’t even have a choice over whether to take a stand: when a white supremacist group declared it their unofficial sneaker, social media outrage inevitably followed and the brand had to respond.

That’s when it’s necessary “to know what your values are and what you’re willing to stand up for, to better connect across divided audiences and right the course,” Van Note advises.

Sourced from WARC