Back in 70’s, companies used to keep themselves far apart from politics. Backing a certain political ideology was considered a bad omen for an organization. Businesses, both large and small ones, preferred to maintain political neutrality in their public statements with their main goal always solely fixed towards increasing profitability for their shareholders. When contributions were made to political campaigns, it was ensured that equal contributions were made to both sides. There was consensus in the corporate circle that hedging was the best way to move forward.
However, things took an interesting turn in the early 1980s, when corporate social responsibility (CSR) became a part of the best practices and policies of organizations. Companies started to weigh the consequences of their actions on society and the environment. Public support also rallied around products and processes of companies, but it still had nothing to do with politics. Company actions like that of cutting ties with a supplier involved in abusive labor practices or procuring raw material through grey channels were judged from an ethical standpoint as opposed to a particular political ideology.
Since the advent of 21st century, things started to change. People around the world started to take polarized positions on political matters. As a result, activism started to creep into corporations as well. With news channels running 24/7 bombarding the people with political views along with social media playing a critical role in fueling polarized political views amongst the masses, it became very challenging for companies and their leadership teams to take a neutral stance. Organizations that wanted to remain relevant and not become part of the “cancel culture” had to take a stance against things that were unpopular amongst its core supporters.
Social Media Giants Creating Polarization in Society
There have been numerous occasions where companies have picked opposite sides on the same political issues. Take the leading social networking behemoths, for example. They have a history of taking opposing stances on the same development. On one hand, Jack Dorsey’s organization called Twitter decided to label inflaming tweets from former US President Donald Trump as “glorifying violence.” On top of that, Twitter even fact-checked and debunked some of Trump’s tweets claiming a connection between mail-in ballots and voter frauds. Even Snap’s CEO Evan Spiegel revealed to the public that his company will not be promoting posts by Trump on the platform.
On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg and his company, Facebook, opted for a completely different position on the matter. He claimed that he is not an adjudicator of free speech and even reached out to Trump clarifying Facebook’s stance in this regard. According to experts on social media platforms, Facebook has become a hub for the conservative right while Twitter has become home for the liberal left. This is clear evidence of how these publicly listed social media giants have picked a side on the political spectrum and creating the polarization in our society and this begs the question of whether social media is making a positive or negative impact on society.
At the core, social media platforms work on engagement, and taking a stance on political matters results in anger and disagreement amongst the audience when the stance does not go in their favor. This can result in the audience leaving one social media platform and moving on to the other social media platform that takes pride in and celebrate their political ideology. Over time, this leads to an increase in polarization across the different platforms.
How Leading Brands & Retailers are picking a Side?
Nike, Kaepernick and Racial Injustice
Colin Kaepernick was featured in the “Dream Crazy” advertisement campaign released on Labor Day in September 2018 by one of the leading sportswear, Nike. Alongside him, there were numerous other leading active athletes like LeBron James, Serena Williams, and the whole of the US Women Soccer team in the advertisement, all of whom have been vocal about social issues.
Kaepernick has been an advocate of racial injustice in the US and has been vocal about police brutality and other related issues. While playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, he started to kneel on one knee when the national anthem was played before the start of the game to show his support for the cause. This created a lot of chatter and a national debate started on this. On one side were the people who called his action derogatory to the sacrifices made by the US military. On the other end, there were people who appreciated him for taking a standby kneeling for people who have been silenced and oppressed. Since leaving the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, he has still not been signed by any other team.
According to an analyst, Nike sales increased by as much as 31% following this campaign over the Labor Day weekend and the stock price of this Oregon-based company rose by 5% in the subsequent weeks after the release of the advertisement.
Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Black Rifle Coffee Company & Others on Gun Advocacy
Following the February 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida which resulted in the deaths of 14 students and 3 staff members at a high school, two of the biggest gun sellers, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, halted the sales of certain assault-style rifles. By doing so they took a clear stance in the debate related to gun control. Walmart, the biggest gun seller in the US with availability at around 4,000 supercenters revealed that it would not sell guns to anyone below the age of 21 and would not even sell items having a similar look to assault-style rifles. Dick’s Sporting Good also made the announcement and added that it would not sell high-capacity magazines either.
The rest of corporate America also rose and reflected their clear stance on gun control as well. Notable airlines like Delta and United severed ties with the Fairfax, Virginia-based gun advocacy group, and ended its discounted pricing for NRA members. This was resonated by Avis Budget Group and Hertz, two of the leading car rental companies in the US. Both corporations ended the discount for NRA members as well. Insurance giant, MetLife also announced that it would end its discount program for the members of the NRA. This was a clear reflection of organizations picking a side on the gun control issue in US.
Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC) came on to the scene as a company owned and operated by veterans in December 2014. The company became embroiled in controversy back in November 2020, when the picture of 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse was posted on a social media platform by a blogger considered a long-term supporter of the coffee brand. The post showed Rittenhouse wearing a BRCC shirt along with a caption, “Kyle Rittenhouse drinks the best coffee in America.” For those of you who don’t know, Rittenhouse had been charged for the killing of two people during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. BRCC came out immediately on the matter and said that they will not profit from the misfortunes of the others and remains supportive towards veterans and gun control.
FOLX Health & Equal Medical Access for Marginalized Groups
To fulfill the customized medical needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, FOLX Health was founded in 2019 as a digital healthcare provider. Queer people of color are highly likely to be marginalized in the community due to social inequality and must go through hoops for access to even basic medical needs. The conditions worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Boston, Massachusetts-based company is providing its services across 15 states in the US. The services include ED, PReP, STI testing, customized hormone therapy packages, and a tailor-made medical database available online aimed towards answering medical questions for the queer community by queer affirming medical practitioners across the US.
The company has been created with the sole purpose of understanding the difficulties of the queer and the transgender community and finding a way to serve their medical needs. According to research conducted by the queer and transgender-identified organization, nearly 20% of the people identify themselves as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Such strong purpose-driven companies are strong examples of how neutrality is thrown out the window in serving different communities.
What’s the Way Forward?
Taking such a stance on political issues by corporations has been termed as endearing and considered as the right thing to do in this day and age, as it can lead to a stronger connection with key stakeholders.
Researches have suggested that political advocacy is seen as part of general business practice and used as a tool to create a bond with its customers and strengthen its brand. Employing political advocacy in marketing communication is not seen as manipulation or a gratifying practice by an organization. This means that the previous belief of mixing politics and commerce not working well may not be relevant in present times.
This reflects a new normal in the business environment where political advocacy can work hand-in-hand to generate sales and profits and organizations are now required to get involved if they want to remain relevant.
The following are companies which openly support conservative principles, while refusing to support most if not all liberal ones.
|Charity Mobile||Telecom||Sends 5% of its users’ price to pro-life, pro-family charities. Scores 3.33 at 2ndvote.|
|Cintas||Service||Target of asset manager Blackrock’s pressure campaign for its support for conservative causes. Donations, mainly by individuals, went 91% conservatives in 2020.|
|ConocoPhillips||Energy||96% organizational and 59% individual donations went conservatives in 2020.|
|Cornerstone Payment Systems||Finance||Cristian payment processor|
|Duke Cannon||Retail||Men’s grooming products creator and retailer. Supports military organizations with donations and products.|
|Epik||Internet||Hosts Gab citing free speech rights, despite many vendors’ de-platforming of the site.|
|The Epoch Times||Media||Holds “Truth and Tradition” as tagline and principles.|
|Gab||Internet||Social platform focused on free speech, owned by an outspoken Christian.|
|MyPillow||Retail||Founder/CEO is very vocal about voter fraud after the 2020 US Presidential election.|
|New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD)||Media|
|One America News Network (OANN)||Media||Consistently the third most-watched news channel among Republican voters.|
|Parler||Internet||Conservative host Dan Bongino is a co-owner.|
|Patriot Mobile||Telecom||A portion of users’ bills is donated to conservative organizations. The user is given choices in this matter.|
|Revolver.News||Media||Popular news start-up catering to American conservative values|
|Sheetz||Retail||Gas stations and convenience store chain, which is owned and operated by republicans.|
|Ruger||Sport||Although a gun manufacturer supporting the 2nd amendment might seem self-serving, this company has been adamant in that stance, while also vocally opposing liberal candidates.|
|Uline||Supplies||Supports conservative causes; some of their trucks have been seen bearing the Bible reference “John 3:16”.|
The following companies support some conservative causes and principles, but do not seem to take a strong stand solely in their favor. These typically offer minor support to liberal causes, but from a statistical standpoint are still more conservative than not.
|Abbott Laboratories (Similac, Pediasure, Pedialyte, etc.)||Health|||
|Applebee’s (DineEquity, Inc.)||Restaurants|||
|Arby’s (Roark Capital Group)||Restaurants|||
|Bass Pro Shops||Retail|||
|Brave||Internet||The browser blocks data-grabbing ads and trackers. Founder and CEO Eich‘s opposition to same-sex marriage led to his forced resignation as CEO from Mozilla, which he co-founded. Avoids content censorship via IPFS integration.|
|Cabela’s (owned by Bass Pro Shops)||Retail|||
|Flowers Foods (Wonder Bread, Tastykake, Nature’s Own, Bunny Bread, Mrs. Freshley’s, HomePride, etc.)||Food|||
|Gold’s Gym (TRT Holdings)||Fitness||Organizational donation went 100% Republican in 2020.|
|Guitar Center (parent of Musicians Friends)||Retail|||
|New Balance||Apparel||As the only major local manufacturer of athletic shoes, New Balance supported Donald Trump’s (as well as several Democrats’) trade position to focus on US manufacturing job creation. The brand’s vice president of public affairs criticized Obama Administration for “turn(ing) a deaf ear”.|
|NewsMax||Media||Extensively covered election fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election. Distanced itself from allegations of Dominion‘s involvement in the fraud after threats from the voting machine company.|
|Omni Hotels (TRT Holdings)||Hotel||Organizational donation went 100% Republican in 2020.|
|Outback Steakhouse (Bloomin’ Brands)||Restaurant|||
|Palmetto Cheese||Food||Founder and owner Brian Henry called BLM and Antifa “terror organizations.” He later apologized amid backlash.|
|Publix Super Markets, Inc.||Retail|||
|Regnery Publishing||Media||When Senator Josh Hawley‘s book The Tyranny of Big Tech was cancelled by publisher Simon & Schuster following the January 6th 2021 Capitol storming, Regnery picked it up just days after.|
|Remington Arms (Cerberus Capital Management, which includes Marlin Firearms & Advanced Armament Corporation)||Sport|||
|Winn-Dixie (Southeastern Grocers)||Retail|||
|Yuengling (craft beer company)||Food|||
The following companies seem to show slight leanings or preferences towards conservative principles and causes, but do not seem firm or determined in this trend. Liberal causes are usually also supported at least in part, but over all, they tend to favor conservatism slightly.
|7-Eleven||Retail||7-Eleven PAC donated 95% Republican in 2020. Scores 3.00 at 2ndVote.|
|Ace Hardware Corporation||Retail||Ace Hardware is part company owned — those stores branded as “Westlake Ace Hardware” are such — but also part franchised, so an independent owner may be conservative or liberal.|
|American Greetings Corp|||
|Amway/Alticor Inc.||Retail (MLM)||Although the company as a whole only minimally engages in politics, company employees overwhelmingly support republicans. Amway’s PAC also seems to favor Republicans.|
|BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse||Restaurants|||
|Coinbase||Finance||while employee donations favor democrats, Company CEO Brian Armstrong refused in 2020 to support or oppose the BLM organization, saying that the company would stay out of politics.|
|Cracker Barrel Old Country Store||Restaurants|||
|Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (Dr. Pepper, 7UP, Mott’s, Snapple, A&W Root Beer, Crush, etc.)||Food|||
|Fox News Channel||Media||By far the most watched television news channel for Republicans, even after Biden’s inauguration as President.|
|Koch Industries (Angel Soft, Rock Island Oil & Refining Company, Invista, Koch Minerals, Georgia-Pacific, Molex, Koch Fertilizer, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline, Matador Cattle Company, and Guardian Industries)||Conglomerate||KochPAC donated 97% Republican in 2020.|
|Las Vegas Sands (casino and resort)||Entertainment||Donates substantially to republicans, but much of it seems to go to RINOs and “center-right” causes.|
|Perry Ellis International (owns multiple apparel brands)||Apparel|||