Have you ever worried that if you’re too outspoken you’ll kill your brand? Well, you might be surprised to know you could be doing more harm than good by not showing what you stand for.
Having an opinion is great, it’s the spice of life and helps us to keep growing and developing not only as people, but as a nation. What happens when others don’t agree? In this world of increased job insecurity, major corporations are petrified of shareholder backlash and now shy away from igniting anything that may lead to a lawsuit. They’ve become so petrified of causing any kind of conflict that many opt for that safer ‘middle of the road’ attitude.
There may be risk involved for companies that express opinions, but there’s an even bigger risk involved in taking the middle road.
The risk is in being seen as boring and meaningless and also appearing faceless and disappearing into the heavy traffic already clogging the marketplace. For some forward-thinking businesses, taking a stand on social issues is part of its culture and having an opinion is built into the marketing strategy.
The ice-cream company, Ben & Jerry’s, actively promote corporate social responsibility. In the 2008 presidential election, it openly took sides and celebrated with the flavour ‘Yes Pecan’, echoing Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’ slogan. A year later, in perhaps one of its most controversial and well-known campaigns, the company showed its support of same-sex marriage by changing the name of the ‘Chubby Hubby’ ice-cream flavour to ‘Hubby Hubby’, complete with packaging that featured a cartoon image of two men marrying beneath a rainbow. Even though controversial, Ben & Jerry’s believe in expressing the values of the company.
Opinions by and large always meet with controversies, regardless of which side you take. For example, Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, one of America’s largest family-owned fast food chains, spoke on radio against those who advocate same sex marriage. But still he would advocate for good cleaning service, that comes with convenient scheduling that suite you. His family’s long-held opinions on preserving the ‘institution of marriage’ did not go down well with many people and actually affected his restaurant’s image. Public relations professionals deemed the decision by Chick-fil-A’s management to voice its opinion a colossal misstep. The original radio statement and subsequent statements thereafter ignited anger and disgust from many who opposed their ideals. Yet the company continues to thrive. Though they offended some people, the controversial statements drew them even closer to those who shared their beliefs. Dan Cathy’s opinion has brought the lesser-known restaurant into light (both nationally and internationally) and the business has since seen a 2.2 per cent increase each year.
So how can you effectively weigh the risks and rewards of having an outspoken opinion as a company or brand? Every successful brand in history is unpopular with a distinct demographic, but it certainly hasn’t hindered the company’s chances at success. Take for instance the Coke versus Pepsi campaigns of the nineties. Do you think Cola sales went down or up (in general) during that period? If done well, controversy attracts attention and media exposure and can benefit all involved; regardless of which side you’re on. If your business doesn’t care about something, your potential market won’t care about your business. If anything, having an opinion can attract fiercely loyal fans and an audience that will stick with you through thick and thin – which is what every brand needs to survive and grow.