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Politics And Branding

The general rule of thumb in business is that you never talk about politics or religion, people get offended about those things. But we just got out of what may have been the most divisive presidential election of my life, and one of the most in the modern era. One candidate refuses to concede defeat despite loss of both the popular and electoral vote (it is not an inescapable comparison that Biden got the exact same number of electoral votes in 2020 that Trump got in 2016). The losing candidate continues to allege substantial election fraud despite having no evidence beyond his own desire for it to be true. Several million of his followers parrot his allegations unceasingly without any real evidence. The closest thing to evidence that exists is an allegation by Project Veritas that doesn't actually stand on its own based on what Veritas reported. I could write an entire blog on Project Veritas and why what it did was Libel, but that's not what this post is about. The next closest thing is the President's continued whining.

 

In a society divided by politics, politics can be your brand.

 

But, in a society so divided by politics, politics can be your brand. This isn't just true of companies like Fox News, Project Veritas, or MSNBC. An increasing number of businesses are basing their brand on political ideas and identity. This is especially true where I am, in the Bay Area. A few years ago a local law practice, Pier 5 Law Offices, got national coverage for posting a sign that condemned Donald Trump. [Full Disclosure: I am personal friends with multiple attorneys at Pier 5, went to law school with more than one, and occasionally reach out to at least one for advice with some specialized legal matters.] Pier 5 is also a Criminal Defense Office who's brand is very much about standing up to the big guy in defense of the little one, so their decision to condemn Trump as he was beginning his family separation policy wasn't just about politics. It was about brand. They got lots of nasty comments on the internet condemning them for their political position, which did nothing to change the fact that they have a couple of the Criminal Defense Attorneys I would want at my side should I ever be forced to defend myself from a felony.


There's a small independent local game store at which I'm a regular which has done the same in the area. They recently posted a painting video where they made a series of sight gags about Nic Cage and followed it wit one about Donald Trump. Normally game and toy stores are a pretty apolitical type of retail environment, but this store's owner has been a pretty outspoken Trump critic, as is his mother, who some years ago, when she was an owner of the store, made a chain of hundreds of peace cranes as a statement agains the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The store is in a liberal city in the Bay Area, and their brand and their location are deeply related. So, tying politics to the brand isn't necessarily inappropriate. And, for those of us who've been going to the store for decades, I think it's part what what's so interesting about the store. (I'm not mentioning the store because I haven't discussed it with the owner so I don't know if he's comfortable with me discussing his store and my thoughts about his branding.


But, the point is simply that identity isn't necessarily about being inoffensive or appealing to everyone. A brand can be about authenticity. What makes tying politics to a business's brand a powerful choice is precisely that it can be offensive and turn people off. It's a choice one makes as much for reasons of authenticity as for reasons of business: I'm not talking about BLM because I want your money. I'm talking about BLM because I think it's important to start discussing systemic racism. And the right decision can establish authenticity, and authenticity can be attractive, even among people who disagree with it.


 

When I still had Top Dog T-shirts, I could wear them anywhere in the in any large city, and someone would talk to me about Top Dog, because there are Cal Grads everywhere, and everyone from Berkeley loves The Dog. Even if they didn't agree with their politics.

 

A great example of that would be Top Dog in Berkeley. A local institution, Top Dog has been serving the same high grade grilled hot-dogs for over fifty years at the same location on Durant between Telegraph and College. The owner of Top Dog is an outspoken Libertarian who is famous for, among other things, posting signs on his walls that say, "There is No Government Like No Government," and has adorned his walls with articles arguing for, among other things: deregulation of almost everything, reduction in taxes, removal or elimination of almost all social programs, and a return to the gold standard. His politics are pretty extreme and he will lecture almost anyone about him who lets him start talking about them, and they are pretty far outside the norm, even for Berkeley. But People lined up at his shop for hot dogs until 3am pre-covid most nights partially because of the profit and partially because of the weird local "you have to get a top-dog" vibe. I used to work there, and when I still had Top Dog T-shirts, I could wear them anywhere in the U.S. and if I went to a large city, someone there would talk to me about Top Dog and tell me a story about their love of Top Dog, because there are Cal Grads everywhere, and everyone from Berkeley loves The Dog.


Even if they don't agree with its politics. And they don't, because no one agrees with this guy's politics. Ayn Rand wasn't as much of a libertarian as this guy is.


Because, for small businesses, authenticity and "real-ness" can win fans even if those fans disagree with you on those politics. It may be worth considering checking with a friend who disagrees with you politically or a consultant about what you're messaging. While an anti-homosexual-rights statements will probably never be a good look for a business in California, for example, there may be a way to express a more conservative set of views that people consider vulnerable and authentic.


If you'd like to talk to someone about ideas for messaging that don't have to be artificially politically sterile, give us a call and we can set up a consultation.





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