As we march closer to the November election, more and more brands are jumping into the election conversation, encouraging voter participation and even taking a stand on some of the hot-button issues of the day. We are living through one of the most divided, partisan environments in our history, and brands must walk a fine line between not alienating some consumers by taking a stance on political issues and compelling other consumers who want to see themselves reflected in the brands they support.
As communications, marketing and CSR teams internally huddle to figure out the next best move for their brands on everything from Covid-19 relief efforts, their carbon footprint and Black Lives Matter protests to Get Out The Vote campaigns, there’s a daunting choice ruminating—one that creates a bad disposition for doing business: mistaking bipartisanship for nonpartisanship and in lauding the former, foregoing or diluting truly great nonpartisan efforts and initiatives.
In the most basic sense, bipartisan refers to representation from both sides—in our American case: the Republican and Democratic position. Nonpartisan refers to issues, ideas or institutions that do not have or demand a two-sides approach and do not have to endorse a political party or candidate. In an effort to always be seen as bipartisan, brands too often go to extreme lengths of trying to make plainly nonpartisan issues and messages appear bipartisan, and in doing so, limit their roster of communicators and ultimately water down their message.
In this confused culture where businesses feel like they have to avoid using cultural influencers and ambassadors who have taken strong positions in the past to get out their message on nonpartisan issues, they are often left choosing from a list of not very inspiring people. If you craft a campaign, you want people who care the most to speak out on an issue. Passionate people tend to have a record, especially in the social media age. This is a good thing, and consumers agree.
The other mistake: feeling the need to match a liberal-leaning celebrity with a conservative-leaning celebrity in pursuit of balance and in lieu of some bogeyman fear of having to come off as bipartisan. It’s the same false equivalency we see in news today: that every issue deserves equal time from a Democrat and Republican voice. Not every issue deserves equal time. Don’t fall into this trap. As long as the messengers a brand uses are conveying the nonpartisan message the brand believes in, who cares that they have sometimes acted in a partisan capacity in the past?
For example, if your brand wants to put out a Get Out The Vote campaign with a passionate, credible left-leaning spokesperson, do it. You don’t need to water it down by adding a conservative counterpart. Voting is a basic democratic right. If Republicans don’t want to speak out on behalf of voting, that’s their loss. Same goes for another hypothetical brand’s campaign to support the troops, which might feature a well-known conservative voice. That’s fine, too. Not everything needs false balance. Communicating on social media is about authenticity and consumers are attracted to credible, believable voices.
Levi’s has done this right this election season. A brand well known in classic American apparel, and worn by jean lovers across the political spectrum, Levi’s cultivated a compelling voting message and didn’t shy away from using big names like Hailey Bieber and Jaden Smith as well as progressive voices like Angela Rye and voices from the Black Lives Matter movement. Their spot was nonpartisan and compelling, not in spite of who was featured but because of what they were saying: make your voice heard and vote.