For marketers, diving into the political fray with their messaging is now riskier than ever given the political upheaval in the U.S. and Europe.
Marketing experts at the Cannes Lions advertising festival in France this week had some simple advice for advertisers: steer clear of politics altogether.
Speaking at a panel event hosted by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, advertising and market research executives said they recognize the temptation for companies to weigh in on political issues in an attempt to connect with consumers.
But they warned that it’s almost impossible to strike the right note in an era when the internet backlash against advertisers’ missteps is quicker and more fierce than ever.
“The implications for corporations that get sucked into this are not good. You want to stay as far removed from politics as possible,” said
an ad industry and market research veteran who is president of private equity fund The Stagwell Group.
Mr. Penn suggested advertisers should be “combative” to get consumers’ attention without being overtly political.
Various advertisers in the U.S. have faced backlash in recent months over ads that consumers have perceived to be distasteful.
Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad depicting its co-founder’s journey from Germany to the U.S. prompted calls to boycott the beer at a time when President
was attempting to temporarily ban travel to the U.S. for people from several Muslim-majority countries, for example.
Similarly, Pepsi was forced to pull an ad in April in which Kendall Jenner offers a soda to a police officer at a protest site.
Harris Diamond, chairman and chief executive at McCann Worldgroup, said brands shouldn’t try to force themselves into discussions if some consumers might be surprised to see them doing so.
After all, most brands want to sell their products to as many people as possible, regardless of their political views.
“We don’t want Pepsi to get involved in that conversation, we want Pepsi to be a refreshing drink,” Mr. Diamond said.
chief marketing officer for the National Football League, echoed those sentiments. Brands should be transparent about their point of view if they have one, but shouldn’t attempt to force it.
“It’s very hard to politicize. Unless it’s in the DNA of the brand, stick to what your brand is about,” Ms. Hudson said.
Write to Jack Marshall at Jack.Marshall@wsj.com