Historically risk-averse marketers embraced causes from immigration to environmentalism under President Trump. Lingering division in 2020 means the industry shift will be less radical this go-around.
Late last week, Joe Biden has been projected the winner of the race to the White House 2020. This development is likely to impact marketing for months – or even years – ahead. Under Trump administration, back to 2016, brands were staking out bolder stances on causes ranging from radical justice to environmentalism. But a Biden presidency could significantly alter consumer-facing strategies.
“Over the past four years, corporations have leaped forward to embrace social leadership alongside answering to shareholders, which has been a great evolution. But wading into explosive social issues carries intense risk after such a fraught election.” – Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of agency Influence Central,
As a part of Biden’s campaign, he has pledged to rebuild a country where political division soared, and it is the time to heal and reunite.
The change of U.S administration has the potential to reset some of the equation for marketers, including legislative areas like data privacy, antitrust action, net neutrality and consumer-facing outreach.
Trump was an accelerant to cause-driven marketing trends that were on the rise prior to his election, but fully took hold in the mainstream under a White House that was often adversarial to key progressive issues.
Brands chiming in on such conversations came as consumer calls for purposeful action climbed, with more people voting with their wallets and turning to social media in droves to protest or boycott companies that didn’t live up to their stated values and advertising messages.
In 2016, months after Trump’s victory, Super Bowl ads – usually aimed at as broad an audience as possible – addressed subjects like immigration and inclusivity. In 2018, Nike ran a spot that starred the activist and free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Although this ad did not mention Trump, but Kaepernick was a continued target of ire for the president due to protesting for radical justice by kneeling during the national anthem at games.
“Trump’s policies have provided a rallying point for calls to action, but the shift in attitudes was already there. I think it is important to distinguish between social action as a specific response to Trump and a broader social trend for which the Trump administration simply provided a moment in time. This is a broader social trend.” – J. Walker Smith, chief knowledge officer of Kantar’s consulting division.
For his part, Biden is more left-leaning. He prioritized areas like climate change. But marketers should acknowledge that he is still a divisive figure, with critics viewing his tracks record as patchy.
With a president who is friendlier to progressive values, brands that have established a stake in areas like sustainability or diversity and inclusion could see bigger opportunities to further their positioning. But the number of companies that will explicitly endorse a Biden agenda will likely remain slim, because the risk of alienating a split consumer base is too high, experts said.
There’s still be uncertainties that some of the biggest issues weighing on marketers stretch far outside the purview of what can be accomplished in a few years, given the state of the Senate. For example, climate change will still be the top concern for many consumers, and people increasingly believe that brands are responsible for solving them.
Atmosphere of uncertainty
Many people hope that Biden’s administration will push a quick return to normalcy, which is marketers’ desire to reach widest possible audience would also welcome. But there are some uncertainties that linger on, including spiking COVID-19 cases in the U.S
Trump’ campaign is now sowing more and more division and confusion around the vote results. Its marks an uneasy period of transitioning power. Many brands have been ramping up media spending after withholding in the early days of the pandemic, with categories like retail looking to the holidays as a lifeline.
Marketers will have to work hard to avoid minefields and missteps in their messaging, despite best intentions, experts said.
As the stability of the nation teeters, marketers could still take away a small silver lining. Industry trackers suggest that, as consumers’ trust in major institutions has deprecated over time, the role brands play in doing public good has climbed. With higher equity built out in activist spaces during the Trump years, brands under a Biden presidency could help to fill in the gaps where the government fails to, assuming they can approach the causes they care about with a deft hand that recognizes ongoing disunity.