Monday, August 20

Should a Brand Have an Opinion?

I've avoided the recent drama around Chick-fil-A mostly because it's just too personal.  I have my own private views on the topic but that's for me and my friends to discuss.

But it does get me thinking about marketing ... Is it appropriate for a brand to have an opinion, specifically an opinion on a social issue?

I understand a person having an opinion, we all have that right, whether a CEO or an average Joe.  But is it ok for a brand to weigh in on a social issue like gay marriage, abortion, immigration, or really any other topic that we are wrestling with as a culture.

I don't know.  But I've been bringing it up at my recent NYU class and with my teams as we discuss trends in marketing.  A lot of brands are jumping on the issue, positive or negative.  I keep asking myself, looking for an answer ... is that all right?

I don't know.  But I do know that when I strip out the emotion and my own personal opinion, one striking observation comes shining through.  When a brand DOES state an opinion on a social issue, such as marriage equality, then it's really just a form of targeting.  By voicing an opinion, a brand is shaping its brand definition and deciding who its target audience is going to be (and not be).  And probably, in the case of Chick-fil-A, building an even more loyal core consumer base as a result.  It has certainly galvanized Chick-fil-A loyalists, as proven by their recent "appreciation day."  Starbucks weighed in with their own version, much to the thrill of their loyalists who showed love for their favorite brand as it voiced its opinion on the same topic.

On that level, dare I say it (and duck), it's quite brilliant marketing.  I'm not sure it's their intention to do great targeting, but it is certainly one of the results (among others).

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe North America
Author, The Experience Effect series
Professor, NYU


  1. I definitely agree with your idea, Jim, that at an unemotional level, a brand stating opinions on public issues simply represents a component (albeit perhaps a disproportionately attention getting component) of its brand beliefs, and thus part of its brand experience.

    At least in some of the recent cases, it appears the social belief is coming from a CEO rather than necessarily the "brand."

    Which raises maybe a bigger question: While the CEO is clearly PART of the brand, when is it appropriate (or not) for the CEO to BE the brand by stating personal (vs. business-wide) beliefs in the context of the brand? Is that reserved for founding/family CEOs, or is there a case to be made when a CEO without that level of long-term linkage to the brand should be doing the same thing?

  2. I had the exact same thoughts when I saw the whole Chik-fil-a issue take over virtually every news station. All publicity is good publicity right?

    The exception might be when your opinion isolates the majority of your loyal consumer base (i.e. Dixie Chicks)

  3. Well said, Mike. And Alicia, I thought about the Dixie Chicks too! Jim.