Since the 2016 election season began in earnest some 18 months ago, politics became a dominating force in not only the news cycle, but in pop culture as a whole. If you turn on the news, check your social media feeds or head to your favorite website, you’re likely to be bombarded with political takes, news and rumors. Traditionally, brands have been reluctant to comment on political topics, as any communication that risks alienating roughly half country is likely bad for business. In this new cultural and political climate, however, some brands have felt compelled to contribute their two cents for a variety of reasons. Some speak up because the politics of the day directly affect their business. Others join the conversation out of a genuine desire to take a stand on an issue that’s important to their leadership or their target audience. Still others chime in because in a world where politics have bled into so much of our daily lives, it’s the only way to stay relevant in the cultural conversation.
When the president announced his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement last week, Ben & Jerry’s made a big splash on social media by posting a very sarcastic take on the news on its blog and sharing their content through their social media channels. It became one of the most shared Facebook posts of the week. To date, the post has been shared more than 30,000 times, drawing more than 44,000 reactions and nearly 2,000 comments. While expressing a point of view that strongly can be difficult to pull off – especially in a sarcastic tone – Ben & Jerry’s succeed by directly connecting the issue to its business, noting the challenge climate change poses to farmers who grow the cocoa beans and vanilla they use to flavor their ice cream.
When Jimmy Kimmel returned at the beginning of May from an unexpected week off, he did so by explaining his absence with a very emotional monologue detailing the complications of his newborn son’s birth. While the majority of his comments expressed gratitude to the doctors and nurses who helped save his son’s life, he also weighed in on the dangers he felt the American Healthcare Act could pose to families less fortunate than his. Healthcare has always been a divisive issue in American politics, but Kimmel expressed his point of view in a very personal and specific way that largely elicited positive reactions.
Stephen Colbert, long known for his political humor, found himself in a difficult place when he transitioned from his cable program to one of the major network late night shows. Through its first year and a half, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” lagged behind “The Tonight Show” in the ratings, but its numbers have skyrocketed since the election due to Colbert’s focus on political news, placing CBS in the late-night lead for the first time in decades. While focusing on politics is an unusual move for a network talk show that traditionally sticks to entertainment, “The Late Show” has thrived because political humor is hot right now and is a key part of Colbert’s brand.
For most, staying out of contentious issues is still the safest bet, but for those who decide to express an opinion or point of view, the most successful course of action has been to join the conversation in a way that feels authentic and relevant to their brand.