For many years, conventional marketing wisdom held that brands should steer clear of political issues. The reasoning was simple enough: What company could afford to alienate a single customer by taking a position on something controversial?
But as the socially conscious millennial generation has taken its place as a $1.4 trillion spending bloc, there’s been a marked shift in this thinking. In 2018, data from Sprout Social found that a whopping 70% of consumers aren’t just OK with brands taking political stances, they consider it “important” that they do so—and that percentage was up from 64% in 2017.
But with some notable exceptions like Patagonia putting “Vote the Assholes Out” on the underside of its garment labels (a reference to officeholders who deny that climate change is real), the highly contentious nature of this election season makes taking a political stance a bigger risk than it’s historically been. And that might be why so many brands are rallying behind that last remaining political issue that feels safe: encouraging Americans to get out and vote.
Earlier this week, Traeger, maker of high-end outdoor grills, kicked off what it’s calling a “bipartisan election campaign.” Without naming any candidates, the company put up an election page on its website with a button that takes visitors to Vote.org, a voter-registration platform operated by a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) of the same name.
“We felt the need to remind consumers that regardless of the intense level of partisan division we’re experiencing, and no matter what side you’re on, we still share common interests,” CMO Todd Smith told Adweek.
Interests like what? Well, the importance of civic participation, but also chowing down on the patio. While Traeger’s initiative might ostensibly be about getting out the vote, it’s also using humor to achieve a bit of self-promotion. Its election page features a variety of convention-style banners that visitors can download and use as bumper stickers and yard signs. The slogans, via LA creative shop Zambezi, include: “Left Wing, Right Wing… Mmmm, Wings” and a poster that endorses a presidential ticket of Ribs and Brisket in lieu of actual candidates.
Traeger is hardly the first brand trying to smoke voters out of their homes and get them to the polls this election season. HBO, Nike, Uber, Facebook and Absolut are among the big-name brands that began mobilizing last month (Sept. 22 was National Voter Registration Day) to increase turnout.
Facebook and Instagram kicked things off that day by adding a voter-registration feature to the tops of their feeds. “We’re putting the full force of our platform behind this campaign to empower every eligible voter to make their voice heard in this election,” Facebook said in a statement.
HBO partnered with the nonprofit Rock the Vote (created in 1990 in partnership with MTV to get young people to the polls) and produced a video featuring personalities like Robin Thede, Spike Lee and Natasha Rothwell wearing masks inscribed with pivotal issues including BLM, criminal justice reform and LGBTQ rights. The unspoken message is that matters of life and death are riding on this year’s election results.
Under Armour is encouraging participants to jog 11.3 miles between now and election day “to show that you’re ready to #RunToVote this November.” Nike’s voter site warns visitors “No more sitting on the sidelines” and features buttons to let them check their registration status, register to vote and request an absentee ballot.
While all of these brands are massing behind an important civic cause, there are unspoken benefits for them, too. According to Patriarch Group CEO and frequent CNN contributor Eric Schiffer, mounting get-out-the-vote efforts give brands the halo effect of taking a political stance without the usual risks of getting behind a hot-button issue.