Trendsetting or trendjacking: should brands adopt a political stance?

Trendsetting or trendjacking: should brands adopt a political stance?

Propero Partners assesses whether firms should share political views with current and potential customers

You’ve probably seen the adverts, but if you haven’t, there was a furore in the news recently following the unveiling of HSBC’s newest marketing campaign. The campaign correctly suggests that the UK is a multinational and multicultural place to live and work, and has a society based on diversity. Unfortunately, due to the campaign’s allusion to Britain being “not an island”, the adverts have been called, somewhat curiously, “anti-Brexit” by critics and affronted leave voters.

HSBC’s decision to allude to a contested and controversial topic like Brexit has been considered political, when actually, the campaign is a very positive and an open portrayal of the bank’s values. A spokesperson for the HSBC UK said, “With the ‘We are not an island’ poster we are reinforcing our strong belief that the things that make us quintessentially British are the things that make us inescapably international.”

Due to the campaign’s allusion to Britain being “not an island”, the adverts have been called “anti-Brexit” by critics and affronted leave voters

Yet by positioning itself in this way, HSBC has potentially alienated a number of customers who actively choose not to see through to the positive message of “together we thrive”—but it seems that HSBC has realised and accepted that you cannot please everybody.

Should an accounting firm, one with little involvement in the consumer world, take a political stand in its marketing?

A fundamental aim of marketing is to obtain, and sustain, a competitive advantage in the market your business occupies—in this case accounting—but weighing in on social issues could cause your marketing to overreach and therefore polarise your audience. There is a fine balance between being proud of your company’s values and your personal values, and exploiting or being seen to exploit social issues.

If a firm chooses to walk this tightrope and discuss politics or have a political ‘side’ in its marketing, difficult questions are raised. Such as, if political advertising is done cynically, could your company be perceived as jumping onto a bandwagon? Or, worse could you be deemed out of touch and on the wrong side of history?

When a brand, despite not really supporting an issue, takes part anyway, it is often just promoting itself, new product or service it has on the market. There is a term for it: trendjacking. The practice is meant to create engagement and drive positive awareness of the brand, but blindly creating content to ride on the back of a trend can seem fake or forced—neither of which will put your firm in a good light with clients or prospects. Think of Pepsi’s disastrous attempt to piggy-back on the Black Lives Matter movement in 2017, including a cliched demonstration and de rigueur celebrity of the moment.

When you decide to take the leap and align your firm to an issue, if executed well, it can enable your firm to break through a saturated market

Obviously, while it would be remiss to avoid any social issues, the issues your firm decides to latch onto need to follow your own thoughts on the matter. If you are unsure or against the issue, then you should perhaps rethink the campaign.

When you decide to take the leap and align your firm to an issue, if executed well, it can enable your firm to break through a saturated market. Essentially, it comes down to which issues (political and societal) your brand associates with itself, and its relevance to your target audience. If it is creative, aligned with your values (like HSBC above) and you engage well with your clients, then it can show your firm is empathetic, ethical, and authentically culturally conscious.

Yes, in the B2B market, firms need to be more careful when positioning one way or another, but the need for portraying your values transparently is much more important than keeping them close to your chest for fear of being ostracised. And more than that, if advertising your firm’s values acts as a force for good, by progressing social responsibility and promoting equality, then who can argue with that?

When you consider that 92% of people think businesses should take a public stance on key social issues and 75% think it is important to be ecological, according to the CBI’s Everyone’s Business tracker, accounting firms have just as much responsibility to be ethical as a big consumer brand. And accordingly, you must speak up against inequality, adopt a sustainable environmental policy, and lead from the shadow of the consumer giants.

 

This guest post was written by Gayleen Huggins, Senior Marketing Manager, and Peter Carr, Content Lead, at Propero Partners

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