Is Your Social Media Branding Strategy Too Politically Insensitive?

I hate politics as much as anyone. Unfortunately, as a marketer, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring it. Politics touches every aspect of our lives. It influences the minds of our customers, so we need to understand what factors affect them, including any social justice movements they are following.


If you post something that is politically incorrect, you can cause serious problems for your brand, as this article shows. It doesn’t matter what your personal feelings are. You need to check them when engaging in a branding strategy. The last thing you want to do is alienate yourself from some of your target customers.

Brands That Have Been Damaged by Politically Incorrectness on Social Media

Many renowned brands have unwittingly stepped on the toes of people that were involved in various social media campaigns. You don’t want to make the same mistake, because it can have serious repercussions for your brand. As a smaller brand, you may not easily recover from carelessly sharing a politically insensitive post on social media.

Here are some examples of companies that screwed up by using improper branding approaches. Hopefully, you can learn from their rather foolish mistakes.

Ports 1961 Appropriates BLM

The Black Lives Matter movement has gained a lot of traction over the past couple of years. Ports 1961, a Canadian fashion brand, thought it would be smart to capitalize off of the movement at one of their fashion shows. They had several African American models wear clothes with mottos such as “Every Color Matters” and “Only Love Matters.” The fashion show left a sour taste in many people’s mouths.

“Blacks have struggled with oppression in America for nearly 400 years. I can’t believe this company thought it was okay to coopt a movement for their equality and infringed on the BLM trademark to boot,” said one woman I spoke with.

Home Depot Makes Racially Insensitive Remark

Racial tensions have been high over the past few years. As a marketer, you can’t afford to ignore that. Home Depot made an egregious mistake in 2013, when it posted a tweet with a couple of black consumers standing next to a man in a gorilla costume.

Home Depot immediately apologized after receiving criticism. They insisted that the commercial wasn’t intended to communicate any racial messages, but understood the racial connotations behind it.

DiGiorno Gets Flack for Joking About Domestic Violence

Many groups have been trying to raise awareness of domestic violence for decades. A new movement was started on Twitter, which DiGiono tried to capitalize off of.

The #WhyIStayed hashtag was created by victims of domestic violence after Ray Rice was caught on video assaulting his wife. DiGiorno didn’t take the time to understand the context behind the hashtag before sharing it on social media to encourage people to visit their pizzerias. AdWeek points out that this was a collosal mistake that hurt their brand image.

“After a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer led to his termination from the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, thousands of women took to Twitter to discuss their physically and emotionally tortuous experiences in abusive relationships. They used the #WhyIStayed hashtag to fight the victim-blaming attitude of Palmer’s critics, who had questioned why she would marry a man who knocked her unconscious… Jumping onto the popular hashtag, DiGiorno clearly didn’t look into its context before tweeting, ‘#whyistayed You had pizza.’”

 Be Careful with Social Messaging on Social Media

Social justice issues have been at the heart of our political discussions since the abolitionist movement started in the 1830s. Many people have very intense feelings about those issues, which you need to respect in your marketing messages. If you inadvertently offend any of your followers, your brand image will suffer.

It doesn’t matter whether a political insensitive message was intentional. Customers will be just as unforgiving for an accidental oversight. It is your responsibility as a brand to understand the nature of the different social movements and avoid doing anything that offends the actors participating in them. This includes understanding the nature of any trending hashtags before trying to incorporate them into your branding campaign.

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