As you read this, the most important crises in a generation are raging on across the world.
The very fabric of democracy in the United States is still under threat, the growing power of the far-right across the European Union is unsettling, and — in the case of Brexit — an entire country has been extricated from the EU because anti-immigrant rhetoric is so strong.
In this divisive environment, refusing to take a stand is taking a stand.
Even if people avoid talking politics in polite company, it matters very much to them who they’re willing to open their wallets to. Data, research and case studies show that aligning your business with far-right politics means bad press, unhappy customers, and ultimately, cuts to your bottom line.
On the other hand, businesses that support social justice and progressive politics attract the right kind of people, the customers who become your “tribe.”
The Copy Bear wants to encourage liberal business owners to take a stand. To call out to their “tribe”. To try to make the world a little better. To be on the right side of history.
By The Numbers
If you’re thinking, “Hang on, my brand can’t afford to wade into politics,” you need to ask yourself: Can your brand afford not to?
Take the British banking company HSBC. It has long touted its international street cred, advertising its status as “the world’s local bank.” As Brexit tensions broiled in 2019, the bank released a campaign titled, “We Are Not an Island.”
“We are not an island,” the ad said. “We are a Colombian coffee drinking, American movie watching, Swedish flat-pack assembling, Korean tablet tapping, Belgian striker supporting, Dutch beer cheers-ing, tikka masala eating, wonderful little lump of land in the middle of the sea. We are part of something far, far bigger.”
While a bank spokesperson told The Drum the ad wasn’t specifically anti-Brexit, the bank’s customers — and the press — read between the lines, and the bank was showered with positive coverage. HSBC made it clear to the world that they believe in bridges, not walls — and sending out this kind of liberal campaign isn’t accidental or for a CEO who wears his heart on his sleeve.
There are hard numbers to back up why your brand needs to take a stand now.
In 2017, an Edelman report determined that 51% of consumers around the world were “belief-driven buyers.” In 2018, that number rose to 64%. In 2020, that rose further still to 66%. And the demographics driving these figures are, to put it plainly, all of them.
It isn’t just Millennials or Generation Z — the latter of which is shown to be even more motivated by causes than Millennials — and this isn’t a phenomenon limited to young people, either. According to Edelman, while 69% of people ages 18-34 want brands to take a stand, 67% of people ages 35-54 and 56% of people over the age of 55 also want the same.
Income also wasn’t a factor in this study: According to Edelman’s 2018 results, 69% of the top 25% of earners worldwide, as well as 62% of the bottom 75% of earners, consider themselves “belief-driven buyers”. Nike’s Colin Kaepernick’s campaign (pictured above) drove a mighty sales spike for the sportswear company.
The want for a purpose beyond profit isn’t just for Americans, either. Britons believe at a higher rate than Americans that brands like yours have a responsibility to the society they serve: 54% in the UK to 41% in the US.
Your brand can speak out in support of the people in your community who need it most, drive the conversation, help make history, and connect with your customers in a way that transcends one quick sale. Your brand can become a vital part of the community, no matter how big or small you may be.
Leading By Example
Ravelry is the perfect example of a small but tight community that made major waves when it banned its site from posts that support President Trump. A popular free online service and sounding board for knitters, crocheters and other fans of fiber arts, Ravelry made international headlines in the summer of 2019 after it went public with its decision.
“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy,” the site’s moderators wrote in a statement in part.
Additionally, Ravelry has incorporated the Pride flag as part of its logo, making it clear where it stood on both the Trump administration and the equal treatment of LGBTQIA people around the world.
Other examples of strong execution from brands around the world include Chobani’s immigrant and refugee advocacy, Lush’s #SpyCops campaign, and Stella Artois’ clean water initiative.
Of course, there are also brands that have attempted to take a stance on an issue and failed epically, like Pepsi in 2017. When the company used institutional racism and African American protests of police brutality as a backdrop for advertising a soft drink, they were eviscerated across social and international media.
They failed to truly listen to the struggles of the people they were depicting, and as a result, came across as superficial, contrived, and tone-deaf.
It came across as them trying to capitalize on the issue, not draw authentic attention to it.
So how can you be Ravelry instead of Pepsi? How is it done effectively and authentically?
We know through numbers and case studies that there are tangible benefits to your brand taking a liberal stance, but there’s a point we can’t hammer home hard enough: You can’t fake this. Your tribe will detect any trace of inauthenticity. This has to come from the heart.
Here’s a quick glance at what this looks like:
1. Identify who you are as a company, what values your products promote, and how your customers perceive you, according to Forbes. Once you have that equity, it’s time to start planning an advertising campaign.
2. Plan your campaigns and your crisis responses. You know what you’ve got in common with your core, most important customers, and you care about the same things. Now make sure you discuss with your team how to react to policies that come out against these groups. Also be proactive: How are you going to design your new ad campaign to authentically speak to those people? And, how are you going to respond to your detractors? Be ready to post your stance, and reply accordingly, across all major platforms you engage with customers on.
3. Make your move and step into the spotlight. Be seen, talked about, and connected with. Listen clearly to customers through social channels, your website or email. Any mistakes should be addressed seriously, and you should consider hiring a diversity and inclusion expert if necessary. Learn from any problems your team may have, but don’t stop trying.
You know who your core customers are.
They know who you are.
And by resolutely moving forward as a liberal company at a time when human decency is demonstrably deteriorating, you will retain the goodwill and approval of the people you started this business for in the first place.
There is a president in the White House who is challenging the core values of America. He has tapped into the hate, buried grievances, prejudices, and mob-fueled emotions of the lowest common denominator. Trump is using the language of hate to vilify and cast out those who are ‘other.’
Americans have moved from being incredulous to being shamed in front of the world. Now many are furious, outraged, and taking action.
From the first public policy that branded this administration as one of hate and segregation, Americans as individuals and as companies have stood up and tried to change the public discourse. The country still has the power of a free press, as well as an independent judiciary and legislature. From those first divisive actions until the latest, the volume of voices raised in protecting has grown. Recently, more than 600 of the largest and most powerful businesses in America publicly challenged the president over a policy decision. This administration may be remembered as the one that turned quiet, local companies into steamrollers for social justice and environmental activism.
Here talk in detail about six companies that have taken a stand for their brand, their customers and their nation – and we show YOU how to do the same.
Hate at Home
While still a candidate, Trump began using language typically associated with hate groups in public forums. In 2015, he said during a speech that the Mexicans were bringing “drugs, crime, and rapists,” to America. More than the Hispanic community was outraged over both the egregious description and the language of hate by a public figure. Macy’s acted, and in response to the comments, they removed Trump’s line of shirts and ties from their store in support of their workforce with Mexican heritage.
The retaliation from Trump included tweets with comments such as “Macy’s stores suck and they are bad for the USA.” He called for all right-thinking people to boycott the brand in July 2015, and took credit for the stock falling 46% by January 2016.
In the year following this attack, the iconic brand’s stores underwent a significant reorganization. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gannette worked through a major digital transformation of the retail giant, reducing real estate, investing in digital systems, and expanding consumer and retail options. The omnichannel retail approach is seeing positive numbers on all fronts today, including double-digit growth in the e-commerce business. They are making plans to deal with the new tariffs from China.
The President has now disavowed the use of boycotts. When a boycott of Home Depot was threatened, Trump tweeted that “Radical Left Democrats” were threatening a great American. “…these people are vicious and totally crazed.”
Unfortunately, this behavior is nothing new. Despite legal challenges and the associated penalties, Trump’s use of hate language has continued unchecked since the early 1970s. The Atlantic recently published a history of Trump’s hate language, racism, and discriminatory behavior going back to 1973. He famously told an architect to remove the braille sign next to the elevator in one of his buildings because he didn’t like it. “No blind people are ever going to live in this building.”
Working Against Hate:
Before You Step Into the Ring:
- Consider forming a coalition of like-minded companies. There is power and protection in collaborative efforts.
- While outrage is the most common first response to much of the public discourse coming from the White House, responses with charm and humor, such as Airbnb’s campaign #weaccept, and other actions that reflect a humanist point of view have been universally well-received.
One of the earliest attacks on LGBTQ Americans in the Trump era was the President’s ban on military service for transgender servicemembers. Transgender Americans have been able to openly serve since 2016, and current estimates are that there are over 15,000 members in uniform currently on active duty. After a judicial challenge, the resolution was upheld by the Supreme Court. The ban went into effect on April 12, 2019. It requires, among other things, for transgender Americans to “renounce or suppress their identity” or they will be discharged from active service.
In 2018, the administration continued both overt attacks and made attempts to roll back legislative protections for transgender or non-binary people. Over 140 large enterprise businesses and 130 small and medium-sized businesses signed the Human Right’s Campaign Business Statement Protecting Transgender Equality.
“Recognizing that diversity and inclusion are good for business, and that discrimination imposes enormous productivity costs (and exerts undue burdens), hundreds of companies, including the undersigned, have continued to expand inclusion for transgender people across corporate America. Currently more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 have clear gender identity protections; two-thirds have transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage; hundreds have LGBTQ+ and Allies business resource groups and internal training efforts.” Business Statement Protecting Transgender Equality
Citigroup was one of the first large enterprises to sign on to the statement.
In October 2018, the New York Times reported on a plan for the Department of Health and Human Services to redefine gender under Title IX as a biological, immutable condition evident at birth. The Human Rights Campaign was only one of the groups both outraged and alarmed. They quickly organized business coalitions to fight the change. November 1, 2018: 56 companies joined the fight. November 13, 2018: 178 companies joined. Today: 270 companies and efforts continue to grow.
In March 2019, the Human Rights Campaign supported the reintroduction into Congress of the Equality Act, designed to re-establish legal protections for all LGBTQ people. They had 164 businesses representing 50 states sign the Business Coalition for the Equality Act. The Equality Act (HR 5) passed the House of Representatives in May 2019, and the bill was referred to the Senate. It is now with the Committee on the Judiciary awaiting action.
In July 2019, 206 major American businesses signed and supported an Amicus Brief in support of their LGBTQ workers. Sent to the Supreme Court, the brief begins by addressing sexual orientation and gender identity being removed from Title VII protections. Signers and supporters include a number of major media companies, including CBS, Comcast, Warner Media, Cox, Viacom. and AT&T. The Supreme Court is set to begin oral arguments in the fall of 2019 on several lawsuits pending regarding Title VII protection of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Transgender rights protections have been targeted in particularly vicious ways. Just in 2019, there have been proposed changes that will remove protection from discrimination against trans people in HUD-sponsored homeless shelters, and remove all protections against discrimination in health care. 2019 also saw the Department of Health and Human Services begin to allow religious and faith-based adoption agencies to freely discriminate against LGBTQ current and prospective adoptive parents
Working for Human Rights:
Before You Step Into the Ring:
- Make sure your own house is in order. Are representative voices from your diverse workforce free to challenge the status quo?
- Consider partnering with advocacy groups in your local community.
What’s the Alternative Fact of the Matter?
America (mostly) giggled at the description by a porn star of Trump getting spanked on his bare butt with a magazine that had his face on the cover. But today, there have been 16 credible accusations of sexual misconduct against the president. The latest, a rape that would have put a browner man in prison, had been forgotten by the alleged rapist. Besides, he said, when asked about the allegations, “she wasn’t my type,” suggesting he doesn’t know the difference between sex and rape.
He also does not appear to know the difference between truth and untruth. His loyal staff explained that there were facts, and then there were alternative facts.
Working for Truth in Public Discourse:
- Dove, a division of Unilever, let their creative staff tell a charming and funny (#alternativefacts) story, explaining what the new Dove antiperspirant could do for a person. (Who knew it was first worn by Cleopatra?)
Before You Step into the Ring:
- A message with a political slant will usually antagonize a few clients or customers. Keep lines of communication open and transparent. Be willing to accept that not everyone will agree or approve before engaging in political satire.
Chobani and the Fight for the American Immigrant Dream
The travel ban was the first time many Americans awoke to their rights and responsibilities to protest and advocate for change. In addition to the people who acted spontaneously to protest the ban, companies from tech giants to small startups joined forces to protest the ban and bring a legal challenge. Almost immediately after the ban was announced, businesses from the icons to the vocal minority stood up to publicly protest. When the media reported that 127 companies had signed a protest over the travel ban, many were interested to see the consequences to the companies of mixing business and politics.
Chobani was one of these companies, and the founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, spoke about how the travel ban affected him personally. Mr. Ulukaya is an immigrant from Turkey and an ethnic Kurd. His company is known for its significant support of employment opportunities for immigrants and refugees.
Chobani’s trouble with the alt-right media and then-candidate Trump began earlier though, in January 2016. Ulukaya wrote an op-ed piece for CNN Money suggesting world business leaders should take responsibility for finding solutions to the world refugee crisis. Breitbart and other alt-right publications began a campaign of hate that included news articles such as “Chobani wants to drown the US in Muslims,” and included hate language on social media, racial and ethnic slurs, as well as death threats and threats to the personal safety of Chobani’s founder.
In the years since these personal and professional attacks began, Chobani’s founder has not been free from threat. In 2017, Alex Jones, a right-wing radio host, and conspiracy theorist was forced to eventually retract comments he made about Chobani’s founder, admitted he mischaracterized the leader’s involvement with a child sexual assault on social media. Of all the high profile business leaders in America who have taken public stands in support of immigration and refugee issues, Mr. Ulukaya has been the most personally attacked and threatened by the alt-right.
Since this conflict began, Chobani has started a successful food business incubator and accelerator, focused on startups working with sustainable food systems. Chobani has won a Best American Brand award for their Greek yogurt. Mr. Ulukaya has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate.
With yogurt sales across the industry flat, Chobani has retained a healthy market share of 37.6% of the Greek yogurt market, and they posted growth in 2019, the only yogurt company to see early year growth. Chobani employees also voted the company a certified Great Place to Work for 2018 and 2019. They posted sales of nearly $2 Billion in 2017.
The immigration and asylum system in America has been decimated, with armed camps at the borders, children forcibly separated from parents, and armed, black-shirt wearing squads of agents patrolling communities on deportation raids. The CEOs of much of the major industry in America have publicly called for the family separations to end. This includes the CEOs of Facebook, Apple, Google, Airbnb, Walmart, GM, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, Mastercard, and others.
Working for Immigrant Justice:
Before You Step into the Ring:
- Many CEOs, like the ones above, have acted on this issue as members of the public, not as representatives of their company. For the well-known, it is hard to escape the connection. But if activism and public discourse are challenging in your position, consider acting as a person.
- Some companies have policies about social media and public activism. You may want to take a stand that is in opposition to one held by leadership in your workplace. If so, do your research regarding your legal rights to free speech.
In November 2016, more than 300 American companies, including Nike, L’Oreal, Starbucks, and the Gap, sent a letter to newly elected President Trump affirming their commitment as businesses to address global warming. They raised concerns over the threat of climate change deniers being put into positions of power in the new administration, and they urged the president to leave Obama-era environmental protections in place.
When Trump announced America’s intention of leaving the Paris Agreement in June of 2017, his speech was peppered with an embarrassing number of falsehoods and exaggerations, as well as a clear misunderstanding of America’s obligations under international law. The country, as a signatory and party to the agreement, is legally obligated to the agreement until November 2020.
Almost immediately, corporate America’s leadership roundly condemned the action. Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger, both of who had been serving on White House Advisory Councils, resigned as a matter of principle. But sustainable energy futures are a business bottom line, and American business has ignored the president and forged their own path ahead.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all invested heavily in renewable energy sources to power their businesses. Walmart and Exxon are moving along a path of transparency and sustainability for both energy use and climate change initiatives. Sustainable energy sources are, for American business, part of their bottom line, and climate change is present, growing, and costly. Etsy has committed to carbon neutrality by offsetting shipping, a major step forward for e-commerce companies. Coalitions are forming. Walmart, GM, Google, and Johnson and Johnson have teamed up to form the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.
In the past, a consortium of private industry, government, and higher education pooled their resources for large and complex projects such as infrastructure development and national transportation projects. Today, business is moving ahead on their own and finding solutions related to renewable energy, carbon neutrality, waste management, and other significant and actionable needs.
But the loss of environmental protections at home, and the buffoonery on the world stage over the Paris Agreements have left America isolated, without the resources and support of the global community. Politically, America stands with Nicaragua and Syria on climate change. But American business is moving forward, despite the challenges of this administration.
83 and Gone: The New York Times recently reported on a record number of environmental protections being rolled back under this administration
Working for the Environment:
Before You Step into the Ring:
- Home and business carbon neutral, or working toward same?
- Does your company have policies in place to limit unnecessary travel?
Over 600 large and small American businesses, including Walmart, Costco, Levi Strauss, Target, Nike, Adidas, and others recently wrote to the White House to express concern over the catastrophic damage to the US economy, including harm to consumers and job losses, if the tariffs with China continue. The Economist reports that the mood in corporate America is gloomy, with clouds on the horizon threatening the booming economy. One of the largest of these clouds is the threat of a trade war with China. On July 6, 2019, the President threatened additional tariffs in an escalation of adversarial language.
The Copy Bear believes business is the catalyst that can change the world. We want to work with you.