Friday, August 20, 2010

Should Brands Really Be Politicking?

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court made a wildly unpopular decision to eliminate the limitations for corporate entities' campaign contributions. Essentially, any corporation or union can give as much money as they like to any candidate this election season—and we're starting to see some of the consequences. We will inevitably go through a long, annoying season of terrible, often misleading tv, radio, online ads and robo calls.

Bad advertising aside, the new law change seems to have brought about more controversial corporate donations. Perhaps it's just more scrutiny on those donations, but brands beware—consumers are watching who you're giving political money to and they may not always agree with you.

Take the recent news with Target. About a week or so ago, gay rights groups and other liberals learned that Target had given $150,000 to the conservative Republican, anti-gay candidate and they got upset. Very upset. Boycotts were organized, flash mobs popped up and the controversy has made it into the top national news. Oops. It's an interesting move on Target's part since they target pretty young (which often translates into liberal), trendy consumers. Perhaps they thought no one would notice? Best Buy also gave to the candidate, and while not feeling the heat quite as much as Target, they're not being spared either.

Similarly, I heard a story on NPR last night discussing how News Corp. (owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, among others) had donated $1 million to the GOP, but not a dime to the Democrats. This is a little different since the owner of News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, is already widely known for his strong conservatives views and some of his news outlets and well known for their already conservative bend. On the flip side, they are news organizations that are supposed to be unbiased, right?

In the NPR story, GE (which owns NBC, CNBC and MSNBC) was given as an example of a company that did political giving right. It gave exactly the same amount to both parties for the hotly contested governor's race in Wisconsin. On the flip side, Comcast gave money to both parties, but it gave more to the Democrats.

So should brands really be dipping their pocketbooks into politics? I don't think so. If you're a brand and want to support the political system, or even a specific candidate, you're going to have to give to both parties or risk alienating customers. In today's very polarized political climate I think a lot a people will stay more loyal to their politics than their brands. What do you think?