Trump’s Politics: Are Brands Playing With Fire?

Brand's voice in politics

* This article appeared first in Forbes

Nearly a week after Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entering the U.S., brands worldwide began voicing their concerns.

But if you’re a brand, should you be wading in on the conversation, or is it safer to stay in the shadows?

Several West Coast companies took a gamble by commenting on the president’s move—many are personally affected through their workers who are stuck abroad, while the reason for others, such as Google and Airbnb, is to defend their raison d'etre of creating global freedom.

So what do some brands reactions look like?

Google has created a $4 million crisis fund for four organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, Immigrant Legal Resource Centre, International Rescue Committee and The UN Refugee Agency.

Airbnb has offered free housing to those affected by the ban.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted “The Executive Order's humanitarian and economic impact is real and upsetting. We benefit from what refugees and immigrants bring to the U.S.”

Also speaking out against the “Trump ban” are Coca-Cola, IKEA, Amazon, Expedia, Reddit, Slack, Ford and so on. The list of those voicing their objections and offering support, most via their founders and leaders, is growing by the hour.

But is jumping on the “ban-bashing-bandwagon” putting brands at risk of facing unexpected repercussions, or is it just as damaging to stay silent?

We live in world where brands align themselves with particular causes, whether that’s diversity, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, or others, yet maintaining these propositions in a world oversaturated by “good causes” is becoming harder to do. As such, while it might be chancy commenting on Trump’s recent decision, it may be just as risky for your brand not to speak out.

Is the danger of upsetting the Trump administration and alienating some of your customers worth it? For some this is undeniably a risk worth taking, but for many others it isn’t. And we’re already seeing the backlash on Twitter.

On the left #Deleteuber trended on Twitter after the ride-sharing app continued to service JFK airport during a taxi strike over the immigration ban. From the right, #BoycottStarbucks also dominated Twitter, after the company vowed to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years.

But the immigration ban has only added fuel to a fire that’s been burning since the presidential race began.

In September beer brand Tecate, which although owned by Heineken is brewed in Mexico, released an ad called for a #TecateBeerWall – a dig at Trump’s planned wall along the Mexico border. In addition, Mexican bookstore chain Gandhi responded to Trump’s proposed wall through a Facebook post stating “Let's build a wall around ignorance.”

Brands that have supported Trump haven’t gone unscathed either. After New Balance offered Trump his first sneaker endorsement following his election win, consumers started burning their shoes. And at the beginning of this year L.L. Bean faced a boycott because one of its family members, Linda Bean, personally funded Trump’s presidential campaign with a $60,000 donation.

There is no right or wrong answer as to whether your company should or shouldn’t have a voice in politics. But brands, their CEOs and founders need to remember that there’s a chance these new policies have been introduced to create noise. And if that’s the case, then these brands may in fact be helping deliver Trump’s message.

For both sides of the coin, getting involved in such volatile politics is a dangerous game to play, especially if you’re U.S.-based. Many brands will adopt a more reserved stance in order to avoid getting sucked in to a political situation that has the potential to get out of control fairly quickly. But the global environment is much more complicated than it used to be, and companies that have a clear brand purpose will find it very difficult to stay out of the conversation.

David Parry, Chief Operating Officer of Saffron