Here’s a question:
Should a brand be expressive about its political point of views?
Because of the internet and social media, the world is right underneath your fingertips and everything you say will probably go viral, become carved into people’s memory and shape their perception. In the case of Under Armour, the CEO and founder Kevin Plank has definitely made his standpoint pretty clear.
After Plank expressed that enthusiastic statement for Trump, amplified by social media, the Under Armour topic became the talk of the town. The hashtag #BoybottUnderArmour went viral and people couldn’t stop criticizing it. Shortly after, some of the company’s athletes such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Stephen Curry spoke out publicly against Plank’s comments. Although the comment was made on the television platform, it became rapidly widespread and got worse due to exposure through social media, especially Twitter, as Under Armour is highly reliant on Millennial shoppers who tend to be more socially liberal and active on social media than other groups. This is a great example of a brand’s reputation being endangered because of a social media crisis.
We all do have opinions. Some we are better off keeping to ourselves or be sure to choose wisely when, where and how to express them. Whether it’s just Plank’s personal political point of view or that comment was meant to be a Trump endorsement, the decision to enunciate a view in a polarized political climate was a mistake. Working closely or agreeing with Trump, who some groups see as sexist, racist and homophobic can never be a good perception of any brand and there is absolutely no necessity for brands like Under Armour to discuss politics. In this case, silence is golden.
Consumers today see a brand as a person with personality and what that person does or believes in matters. This situation could most doubtlessly have been avoided. Just don’t talk politics! There is indeed a saying in Thai that there are mainly 3 things we all shouldn’t randomly discuss: love, religion and of course, politics. Just because media platforms have made it easier for us all to throw our two cents in, doesn’t mean that we have to voice all of our opinions. We have to be extra careful today as whatever is imprinted on social media will stay a part of us forever. In this situation, hopefully Under Armour won’t be associated with Trump’s unfavorable personality traits for years to come!
Even though Under Armour tried to fix the situation by issuing a press release clarifying that “We engage in policy, not politics”, its shares had already gone from neutral to negative. Plank took a step in an attempt to limit the damage done by taking out a full-page ad in the Baltimore Sun stating that “in a business television interview, he answered a question with a choice of words that did not accurately reflect his intent. Under Armour exemplify equal rights and believe that immigration is a source of strength, diversity and innovation.” But trying to sway people’s perception of what has already happened through sagacious recapitulation …does it really work? And how effective is it?
Brands should stand for all consumers as a unified whole and not take sides. There is no harm in staying neutral as in a world where content is king, there are already tons of opportunities and boundless space for creativity and pragmatic content. Plank coming forward to fix his first statement was the right thing to do, however, we must acknowledge that it takes time to recover when you drop the ball on social media these days.
When it comes to a crisis situation like this, marketing and PR should be working together in harmony as it should be dealt with in a timely and efficient manner, preferably on the same media platform as the dilemma happened. While PR should be doing its job handling with all the brand’s relations with the public, the marketing team should also help by coming up with new positive campaigns or messages to get the audience to move on and hopefully start focusing on a new topic and new journey as soon as possible.
I look forward to seeing how a global company like Under Armour attempt to turn this crisis into an opportunity through their future content but I am indeed sure that they are now in no doubt…. branding and politics in a Trump presidency era do not sit well together.