When thinking about the 2020 United States presidential election, burritos may not be the first image that pops into your mind. But companies in industries ranging from food and beverages to clothing apparel are using brand power to encourage people to vote in this year’s United States presidential election. This blog, while about the use of brand power in the election, is not about politics but rather offers an observation about an interesting trend in the USA, which was absent from the Canadian election a year ago, in Fall 2019.
Over the last several months, we have been seeing some companies use their brand in the United States to support issues and causes. Some are directly or indirectly supporting a presidential candidate while others are focused on encouraging people to get out and vote. The varying approaches no doubt feed into a company’s overall brand strategy and the calculated risks the company is willing to take in wading into a heated political arena.
Companies that are often known for taking ethical stands and or supporting activism are stepping into this election arena playing on their brand power. It should be noted that often more progressive brands are willing to do so and such brands typically lean left. That said, in this 2020 United States presidential election the interest in getting people out to vote and using brand power has forces coming in from all fronts.
It may not be surprising that the Mexican casual fast food giant Chipotle launched a voting initiative. It’s foray, into the what I’ll refer to here as election branding, is using a chi-vote-le logo on T-shirts that even have a scan-able QR code on the sleeve to facilitate voter registration.
Buying a burrito is now taking people one step closer to the polls. With a strong millennial customer base this initiative likely feeds nicely into its clientele.
In the clothing industry one example of a company dressing for the election is Banana Republic. Banana Republic is playing off its core brand this year with a collection of masks using the slogan: “Vote for a Better Republic”. Banana Republic teamed up with Rock the Vote in an effort to help educate people about voting rights. It cannot be ignored that the fashion retailer is doing double duty on its initials BR -a recognized reference to its brand- and now a feature of its election branding a “Better Republic”.
In both of the above examples each company opted to build on the goodwill and recognition associated with its core brand.
A different approach was taken by a group of approximately 19 designers that opted to join forces to directly support the Biden and Harris campaign. This group created a fashion and accessory collection called “Believe in Better”. In this way these designers chose to associate together in lending their brand power to a particular presidential campaign. Here the individual core brand is not the centrepiece of the election branding. Nonetheless, the association of the brands to this collection is intended to attract customers to exercise their right to vote, and further to encourage a vote for the candidate the group supports. It is interesting to observe that in this example, while the initiative is itself more directive, the use of the brand power of each company is more diffuse.
There can be no denying that Trump himself took election branding to new heights with the slogan he used in the 2016 campaign “Make America Great Again”. This continued during his presidency and continues to be featured in the 2020 election. President Trump has four trademark registrations in the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the mark. With his background in business one surmises that his election campaign is no stranger to the value of a strong brand.
Some companies are seemingly taking a less direct tact, focusing on encouraging voting. In some cases however, the sale of goods that are branded to encourage voting do result in proceeds being directed to causes like NAACP, groups that support women running for political office etc. So a savvy buyer may appreciate activism in the branding but others may not be aware of the underlying affiliation.
People on either side of the political line may be alienated by a brand’s active support in the election. So whether your brand is directly or indirectly waving a red or blue flag it is important the brand strategy is premised on a calculated risk. The potential for backlash undoubtedly exists. A misstep could impact a company’s bottom line as well as have long term reputational consequences. Knowing your brand’s demographic base should be a key component of any strategy and that is ever more the case in this regard.
In contrast to the flurry of election brand related activity we see in relation to the 2020 United States presidential election, the 2019 Canadian election was barren of election fashion trends and big brands encouraging people to get out to vote. Perhaps it is because of the stark contrast that this is so intriguing to those north of the border.
Despite this lack of symmetry on the election branding fronts, there are broader practical insights to be gained. Your brand is first and foremost a powerful tool for your core business’s goods and services. There are however multiple ways to play on a brand, should one be so inclined. Any company considering taking such a step, be it in the political sphere or elsewhere, is advised to map out its key objectives, assess the risks, protect the brand and related trademarks and consider ancillary effects. Brand strategy and brand management are key to success.