Brands, politics and painful presidential elections

Guys, the end is near.

No, not the apocalypse (though it feels like it at times). The 2016 Presidential Election is next week, offering us sweet, sweet relief from the chaos of these campaigns. We as consumers have been feeling the effects of this tumultuous election cycle for what seems like forever.

Alongside us, brands have been feeling those effects as well. Here’s a few ways how:

1) They spend a ton.

Given the exponential increase in political advertisements over the past decade, commercial advertising was bound to be impacted. One way is “political crowd-out” – competition for airtime is fierce, causing brands to purchase spots months earlier than usual. Brands that were looking to run advertisements during the Olympics or promote summer-themed products (such as sunscreen) likely went through a different ad purchasing process than in most years.

Additionally, brands fear a “spillover” effect – a negative political advertisement’s tone can be pervasive and a significant percentage of consumers are likely to change the channel, meaning they fail to absorb the message of the brand’s advertisement that immediately follows. And, if they do keep the channel on, a recent study from JWT showed that brand advertising that airs right after a political ad is deemed 32 percent less relevant, 29 percent less entertaining and 27 percent less appealing.

However, brands who don’t participate in advertising during this time frame risk losing out to competing players. Politics make brands walk a fine line.

2) They decide to step into the fray.

Speaking of fine lines, when a brand gets involved in an election, it can go very wrong or very right. Brands want to be relevant for consumers, and tying into one of the most impactful events they can experience is an opportunity to do so. In fact, in 2014, Global Strategy Group conducted a survey that showed a majority (56 percent) of Americans believe companies should stand up for what they believe politically, regardless of whether or not it is controversial. However, the study also stated that Americans believe companies should tread carefully on controversial issues and be prepared for pushback.

An example of this going right? Netflix aired a House of Cards commercial during the Republican Presidential debate on December 16, 2015. Advertising a political drama to an audience who is interested and engaged in politics already perfectly exemplifies a brand being relevant for consumers.


3) They get thrown into the fray.

Brands who avoid politics because they’re wary of fallout still might find themselves adding their voice to the conversation, albeit reluctantly. The 2016 election is certainly no exception.

Skittles is an example. When a meme comparing the candy to refugees was shared on social media by Donald Trump, Jr., Skittles had to step into the spotlight and shut down the unwanted association. The company’s measured statement said: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”

This era of real-time marketing (think Oreo’s tweet during the Superbowl blackout in 2013) could potentially have disastrous effects for political-fueled brand communications. In Skittles’ case, the simple and measured response was effective.

Tic Tacs had a similar experience. I like to think the PR reps for both candy companies are sharing a few glasses of wine and trading 2016 election war stories.


With the age of social media, memes, GIFS, and Twitter feuds, brands have more opportunities than ever to get involved in the conversation around politics. However, it’s a double-edged-sword. With greater opportunities comes the need for greater caution.

Related Posts: Off & Running: As Candidates Announce Run for the White House, Attack Ads Follow How Social Media May Determine the Next President Can Health Care Brands Join the Election Conversation? Top 5 Bizarre Social Media Moments: Election Edition Top 5 Bizarre Social Media Moments: Election Edition Why the Media Made Donald Trump our Next President