Katy Perry and Other Celebs Are Pushing Anti-Trump #TwitterBlackOut Effort, but Should Brands Join In?

Caution is advised

When pop star Katy Perry joined the grass-roots #TwitterBlackout effort on the microblogging platform Wednesday, the movement truly began to gain traction. Regular folks and celebs like Perry—as well as musician Questlove and model Emily Ratajkowski—are replacing their profile pictures with the color black to protest the election of Donald Trump on Tuesday. 

The development comes against a backdrop of #NotMyPresident protesters taking to the streets across the U.S. Are celebs risking anything by politicizing their brands during this deeply divided time in American history? We asked marketers to weigh in on the subject.

"[It] makes perfect sense for celebrities who have a reputation for speaking their minds on political issues," said digital consultant David Deal. "But social media gestures will come across as hollow for celebrities who are jumping on the political-consciousness bandwagon now."

Deal pointed to Bono as an example who stars can look to when considering how to not only express opinions, but actually cause positive change. The U2 singer's One foundation brings water to people in need around the globe.

"Celebrities need to go beyond social media to have any impact on political and social issues, as Bono has demonstrated over the years by working with policy makers and influencers to effect change," Deal said. "The 2016 presidential election had already demonstrated why social media does not change hearts and minds."

Ben & Jerry's, a politically active brand, has refrained from both using the #TwitterBlackOut hashtag and blackening its Twitter profile image. But it has created a positive-minded video and wrote a letter to Trump. Should other marketers even consider wading into the conversation? Or is the risk-reward factor steeped too deeply in branding danger?

"If there are brands that wholeheartedly believe Trump winning the election is a shameful act, then participate," said Bethany Iverson, Space150's director of strategy. "If you're a brand dedicated to politics, social justice, or are a cultural change-maker, your participation in the blackout makes obvious sense. However, the majority of for-profit brands in America are comprised of folks on the left and the right, which makes choosing a side hard for most companies in a situation like this."

Assaf Henkin, svp of Amobee Brand Intelligence Solutions at Amobee, agreed. "Changing a profile image in support of one cause or another is a simple action, but brands and marketers have to think about authenticity when they consider engaging in these kinds of social media movements," he remarked. "Does it fit the brand? Is it going to alienate or help support your audience in a way that's in alignment with the brand's values?"

Added Aaron Goldman, CMO of 4C: "For brands, if your core audience is strongly anti-Trump and you don't care about alienating his supporters—keeping in mind it's about 50 percent of the nation—then participating in the blackout might be an effective tactic. Most brands aren't that niche, though, and need to appeal to a wider audience to meet their business goals and thus would be wise to not get involved."

Whether brands should digitally join hands, so to speak, with celebrities to embrace movements like #TwitterBlackout seems questionable as well. Collective Bias conducted research this year that found celebrities have little impact on consumers' political views, said Holly Pavlika, the company's svp of marketing an content. "Nor do they impact purchase decisions," she explained. 

Because Trump won the election, even his detractors would likely have to admit that his campaign became a study in messaging. The president-elect's controversial brand will be the topic of discussion for decades to come. 

"Trump clearly knew what his supporters wanted to hear and gave it to them, disregarding his noncore constituency and alienating many people along the way," said Goldman.