The women's strike and the Pride are just around the corner. Not only demonstrators but also companies are taking part. But where does social commitment begin and where do marketing and communication stop? And how risky is political positioning for a company’s reputation?
Politics is polarizing. For a long time it was mainly in the hands of politicians. But in recent years, more and more voices have come from below. Mass movements are protesting against party politics, against the elites. They demand equality, maintaining climate targets, more - or less - diversity in society. It has a long tradition for citizens to get politically involved and to mobilise. But more and more companies join the initiative of the demonstrating masses and use the moment to position themselves. Social advocacy and political corporate social responsibility (CSR) are part of communication and corporate strategies.
For some brands, political and social commitment is an integral part of their appearance. One example is "Ben & Jerry's". The ice cream manufacturer not only pays attention to fair and environmentally friendly production, but also makes clear statements. To name one of many examples, the company has used the slogan "Yes, I dough!” in Germany to call for support for the legalization of same-sex marriage ("Ehe für alle"). More than 55,000 people have committed themselves to this initiative via Ben & Jerry's homepage.
Another company that does not shy away from clear political statements is the playing card manufacturer "Cards Against Humanity" (CAH). The well-known US card game repeatedly attracts attention with controversial political marketing campaigns and donates a large part of its profits for political and social purposes. Among other measures, CAH has clearly positioned itself against Donald Trump. 15,000 people each paid $15 to receive six surprises in December 2017. One of them was, that the company bought land on the US border with Mexico and hired lawyers to make the construction of the wall as hard as possible. Link: https://www.cardsagainsthumanitysavesamerica.com/
But there are also companies where political CSR and social advocacy are not as clearly part of the strategy as in the examples above. If, for example, such companies participate in a Pride demonstration, the question arises as to how much this involves carrying out a message and how much it involves self-marketing. The appearance at political events of large corporations is repeatedly criticized - also by those social groups that benefit from the engagement. The commercialization of political symbols is also criticized. When rainbow flags and feminism symbols suddenly appear on the products and in the communication measures of profit-oriented companies, and even special offers such as Pride-Week discounts are offered, the marketing aspect of the seemingly political commitment can no longer be denied.
Derived from "greenwashing", the communication of environmentally conscious measures despite a lack of environmental awareness, the term "pinkwashing" emerged. The term accuses companies of promoting diversity more than actually living it. Anyone who decides to position themselves politically as a company, should be able to prove that these values are actually implemented. CSR and social advocacy are not primarily communication measures, but strategic decisions that demand action. In order to demonstrate one's own commitment to a political issue, it is advisable to publish reports on one's own website on topics such as equal pay, diversity within the company or compliance with voluntary standards and applying for quality labels.
A company's political statements should be consistent not only with its values and strategy, but also with those of the relevant stakeholders. Should a conflict arise, it is important to consider whether the risk can be taken of losing customers, partners or other stakeholders as a result of the political message. In any case, marketing and communication measures with a political background should be aligned with the general business strategy.
Even if a company does not engage in active political communication, current social issues relating to its own business must be addressed through its own communication channels, following the principle of integrated communication. During the women's strike, for example, it was observed that some Swiss managers spoke out clearly in favor of or against the strike, while others did not take a stand. In our view, anyone who picks up on the topic here, communicates their views authentically and reacts to a social need, can only position themselves positively in the long term.