Issue-based Marketing: The Role Brands are Playing Regarding the Issues of Our Time

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Issue-based Marketing: The Role Brands are Playing Regarding the Issues of Our Time

At the beginning of May, Muslims around the world began a month-long ritual of fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan. For each day during Ramadan, the fast begins at dawn and ends at sunset and before the fast begins, Muslims eat some pre-dawn meal to ensure they still have the energy to get through the day as they usually do. Now, I’d like to draw your attention to a news story I read last week about a hotel in Dublin and the length they went through to accommodate a Muslim guest that was staying at the hotel.

In a story that first blew up on social media and then reported on The Independent, a Muslim staying at Ibis Dublin, part of the Accor Hotels group, got way more than he bargained for when he asked the hotel staff for a pre-dawn snack and was then presented with a full breakfast buffet at 2.30 am even though he was the only one eating at that time. When asked, the hotel staff responded by saying that it was the least they could do. Given how the freedom and safety of minorities have been threatened in the past few years, it’s heartening to see a business standing firmly on the side of compassion instead of hatred, something that other business should seriously consider.

The practice of issue-based marketing

What Accor Hotels did in the example above technically isn’t issue-based marketing since I don’t think they did that with the hope of the story going viral but they managed to strike at the core of what makes issue-based marketing so potentially powerful. For the record, the original Tweet that first reported the news managed to garner more than 100,000 likes and I’m guessing plenty of goodwill for the brand since it’s the kind of feel-good story that only the most cold-blooded cynic or the most racist of Islamophobe could resist.

For a better example of issue-based marketing, let’s take a look at Nike’s decision to partner with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. For those unaware, Kaepernick, an African-American, was the player who raised controversy for his decision to sit, and later kneel, during the pre-game national anthem in NFL matches. This was his form of silent protest regarding a series of African-American deaths by law enforcement that was the basis for the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

Kaepernick’s protest lead to a series of pushback from other public figures, including President Trump, and was alleged to be the reason why no team would sign him following his departure from the San Fransisco 49ers in 2016. Kaepernick remains a controversial figure to this day but that didn’t stop Nike from partnering with him and as expected, the reaction to Nike’s move was just as divisive. Videos of Nike products being burned began to appear on social media but Nike turned out to have the last laugh as their stock rose by US$6 billion in value a couple of weeks after the campaign started.

Just do it, but with proper research

Before you consider Nike’s move to be a brilliant gamble, consider that the campaign started in September of 2018, two full years after Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem. I suppose it’s fair to say that there was an element of gamble involved in this decision but I’m also willing to bet that Nike conducted proper market research on how their action would be perceived and whether they would end up ahead once the dust’s been settled.

Issue-based marketing is potentially powerful but play it wrong and you might end up alienating your core audience. Nike’s customer skews relatively younger and more ‘woke’, for a lack of a better word so even if there was some incidents of Nike’s products being burned by disgruntled customers, the overall reaction was positive. Given how divided the world has been in recent times, you have to make sure you know where your target audience stands on a given issue before you decide on a message.


Carefully craft the message you’re trying to convey

Nike’s Kaepernick ad is particularly brilliant thanks to its simplicity. The crux of the campaign is a close-up of Kaepernick’s face with the phrase ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’ written in the middle. It’s made all the more poignant because it comes from someone who practically sacrificed his entire career by trying to stand up for what he believes in. Compare this to the Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner that made the headlines for all the wrong reasons and you’ll understand why you need carefully consider the message you’re trying to send.

As with Nike’s ad, the Pepsi ad revolves around the Black Lives Matter movement but instead of partnering with an actual figure that has ties with the movement, the Pepsi ad involves Kendall Jenner. And instead of referencing the movement directly, it just uses similar imagery while trying to convey a highly tone-deaf message about how Pepsi can bridge the divide between law enforcement and the African-American. Needless to say, the ad was negatively received and Pepsi was forced to apologize for their poor handling of the issue.

By taking a stand, you could inspire loyalty from your customers

Humans make connections by finding a common ground. This is why we tend to make lifelong connections from people we went to school or college with, because they’ve been through the same things that we do. By taking a stand in a given issue, you’re showing a certain camaraderie to your customers, which could inspire a similar kind of loyalty that you regularly show to your friend. Of course, taking a stand could also mean alienating the customers on the opposite side, which is why you should always give careful consideration to what you’re about to do.