What are the two things you should never talk about? Religion and politics. But what do you do when even non-political issues have turned political? Should your business or your brand share your political views in your marketing?

Your answer will depend on your values, mission, and customers. But what do the number say?

The folks at paid advertising platform, Adzooma wanted to know what customers thought. So they asked more than 300 people about their views on politics and branding.

How customers feel about political statements from brands

  • Customers will buy from political brands — but they won’t follow them.
  • 43% of people think that brands are just jumping on the bandwagon. In other words, these people believe the brands are making political statements to drive their branding rather than because it’s something they believe in.
  • Statements alone are empty: Customers simply don’t believe that brands are authentically concerned about the controversial issues they post about or advocate in social media. Consistent actions and investments in those areas, however, do get a positive response.
  • Political statements should be congruent with your product, service and audience.
  • People want brands to speak out on key movements because the brand holds influence.
  • Customers want to support brands who match their values

The History of Brands and Politics

Before the 1980’s brands stayed relatively neutral. Things started to change in the 1980’s as more and more brands embraced social responsibility. These companies were conscious of the impact that their products had on their environment, their customers and the world at large.

Then there was a movement toward advocacy. This was viewed more from a social perspective and not politics. For example, a company might be an advocate for environmental conservation .

From Brand Advocacy to Brand Activism

Here’s an example of a controvertial campaign by Patagonia and REI. Both brands sell adventure and camping equipment and are staunch advocates for being out in nature.

If you’re a customer — do you think they went too far?

From Brand Activism to Political Advocacy

The 2000’s saw deeper and deeper divides between political parties and brands soon followed. Companies like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby made the news for the strong stands they took on values that were the core of their company — but NOT their products and services.

With everything being politicized lately, you’d think consumers would want to know where a company stood politically. But the answer might surprise you.

Knowing Your Customer is More Important Than Ever

There has been a shift in consumer attitudes about what brands should do, but it’s not as clear cut as you might imagine. People are much less swayed by a brand’s political leanings than has been widely reported.

Research from George Washington University shows that consumers viewed a brand’s engaging in liberal advocacy as neither good nor bad rather as a normal course of doing business. The political beliefs of companies were seen to be both genuinely held and designed to build loyalty by the majority of participants.

People are cynical enough to believe that a brand will do or say whatever they think will increase sales. At the same time, consumer’s preference for a specific brand’s product or service will usually trump their political leanings. For example, those people who love Chik-Fil-A sandwiches — like Chik-Fil-A sandwiches much more than they dislike their political leanings.

One interesting thing that came out of this study is that conservative causes tend to decrease customer’s opinions of a company while liberal causes have no impact on people’s opinions of a company.

Advice for Small Business

What does all this mean for small business owners? You can never go wrong by supporting causes tied to your product or service. For example if you are a restaurant or retailer that deals with food and you choose to feed the hungry in your community — this is broadly seen as positive.

Be aware of your environment and your customers. Focus on supporting causes that strive to support and help your community and stay away from causes that can be perceived as divisive.