By Alexander McMahon.
No-one can deny the shocking scenes in Charlottesville, USA. It’s a political grenade that even the President of the United States can’t handle without it going off in his little tiny hands.
But what if you’re a brand, who by no fault of your own, finds itself at the centre of such an event, on the wrong side of history, on the wrong side of the political divide, coopted by cunts?
As white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan marched on the University of Virginia campus, they held symbolic torches in the night, echoing the lynch mobs who brought terror to generations of African Americans.
Tiki Brand products, the company that makes torches identical to those carried by the white supremacists, found their names dragged into the conversation. However, they quickly denounced their use in the protests, writing on Facebook, “TIKI Brand is not associated in any way with the events that took place in Charlottesville.”
Of course, Tiki are just one of many brands who have found themselves favoured by colossal asshats.
The ‘Proud Boys’, a self-described “Western chauvinist” men’s club that push an “anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt” agenda in “an age of globalism and multiculturalism,” sprung out of the political quagmire of a post-Trump world. They have taken the Fred Perry button down t-shirt, a British classic, as their uniform of choice. we don’t support the ideals or the group that you speak of,” John Flynn told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in a statement. “It is counter to our beliefs and the people we work with.”
Neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin decided New Balance sneakers were the “Official Shoes of White People.” However, that PR disaster was somewhat of its own making, after New Balance exec Matthew LeBretton told The Wall Street Journal, quote, “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction,” unquote.
Of course, these days social media plays a massive role in how brands interact with their consumers and stakeholders, and respond to negative associations.
Dr Marten boots have long been associated with the British skinhead movement, a group that had it’s roots in youth and vitality for black culture, but sadly became coopted by a racist element that tarred the movement in the eyes of the media. Burberry meanwhile became extremely popular with an underclass youth culture, one that had its roots in poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and inner city violence.
The brand response in those cases was to remain silent, and not rush to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to distance themselves from undesirables. After all, these were political issues – and of course, those platforms didn’t exist.
However, brands these days need to realise what can happen in the blink of an eye, and how your brand can be plunged into crisis with the snap of a photographer’s flashbulb. While many have the luxury of being able to stay well out of the political spectrum, some simply don’t have the choice and are suddenly thrust into a conversation where they are forced to take sides.
Have you ever thought what you would do if you found the brand you care for suddenly under the light of a lynch mob’s flaming torch? Unless you are actually trying to appeal to a bunch of brain-dead, racist troglodytes, then you should respond to your consumers as quickly and simply as possible.
Tiki deserve merit for having the balls to do so, even if their country’s President can’t seem to do the same.