Anna Foster of TMW: why brands opposing Trump need to put principles before profit

US brands including Levi’s, Google, Apple and Facebook have found themselves in the highly unusual position of defending the constitution against the policies of their country’s president. Around a hundred companies have opposed Trump’s travel ban which they argue not only negatively impacts business but goes against America’s founding principles and their brands’ ethos, with more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

In these increasingly polarized times, brands are finding themselves caught in political cross-fire and are quite rightly publicly defending their beliefs.

Big companies aren’t the only ones taking a stand. The mass protests taking place around the world at the moment, from the Women’s March to the travel ban protests, are a clear sign of overwhelming public emotion. People are angry, disbelieving, frustrated and shocked at what is happening in the world. Just this week, dozens of rabbis and rabbinical students were arrested following a protest against the Muslim travel ban outside Trump Tower in Manhattan.

As an attendee of both the Women’s March and the anti-Trump protest in Whitehall last month, I was pleased to note that both saw much higher numbers than had been anticipated. The original estimate for the Women’s March was 20,000 people, but 100,000 turned up and gridlocked central London.

The overwhelming feeling among the crowd was one of solidarity. This is one of the few things that makes me feel okay about the state of the world – the fact that others are standing alongside me, angry at the same things and showing the wider world that we won’t just stand by and watch.

But to brands considering how they can tap into this upswell of feeling for marketing purposes I’d say one thing – don’t. What’s happening right now is too important, and any brand that tries to jump on it for marketing or sales, would (rightly) cause outrage.

The brands opposing Trump’s travel ban are not doing so for marketing purposes. Likewise, Airbnb offering free accommodation to those hit by Trump’s restrictions isn’t a marketing move – it’s a clear statement of solidarity by the founder. Starbucks promising to employ refugees is a moral stand (one that has seen a backlash from Trump supporters), not a business decision. It’s a commitment to a brighter future.

This level of high emotion means it will be harder to disguise a cunning marketing move as anything other than a cynical attempt to jump on the bandwagon. So don’t do it. Avoid it at all costs. But if a brand’s CEO wants to take a stand for solidarity and make a gesture to show their genuine revulsion at what is happening in the world, then that might just be very welcome.

Anna Foster is data director of TMW Unlimited.

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