Brand-stands in troubled times


In troubled times like these many of us are asking ourselves where we stand and what we should do about it, and the same should be true for brands. But brands are commercial or social vehicles and so these questions are, I think, even more fraught.

As consumers we like brands that stand for the same things as we do, and we tend to choose and support them on that basis as much as on what products or services they offer. But we are also highly sensitive to brands taking advantage of our sympathy and outrage to sell stuff to us, that is just not cool and we are rightly sceptical about brand-standing when the world is in crisis.

So as a brand how do you make these calls? What is the right time and / or issue to take a stand on, and when should you just sit down and quietly support your consumers by providing them the products they rely on you for?

As with most things brand related, there are no hard & fast rules, but I think there a few of basic guidelines that might help:

1. If the cause is embedded in your brand equity and proposition, then go big and take a serious stand because if you’ve built your brand on a platform that has such a message you can’t afford to back down when the going gets tough, your credibility relies on you standing by your brand, as it were.

So if you’re a Danish public service TV station and your positioning is “all that we share” then do this when Trumpistan* is in full swing:

If your brand is about hospitality all around the world, then do this:

AirBnb opens doors to stranded travellers

If you’ve built your brand on being part of each community you find yourself in, and supporting the flourishing of diverse places and peoples, then do this:

Starbucks to hire 10,000 refugees in 75 countries in next 5 years


2. If your brand is not cause-driven or built on the values under fire then pick a side and support those doing the right thing without trying to profit from it.  Now is not the right time to try and become a cause-driven brand or to try and make money while the sun is not shining, both those routes will undermine your credibility and send your consumers running in the opposite direction.

So if your brand is about getting people where they’re going easily & safely then DO put your money in the hands of those who can and are making a difference, and DON’T profiteer while others take a stand, especially if you’re already teetering on the edge**:

Lyft donates to the ACLU while Uber undermines protestors

This is what will happen:

Consumers start to #deleteuber after their response to the taxi cab strike regarding the ban. [Edit: link updated to reflect a more accurate version of what happened]


 3. If your brand is allied to people or organisations that are directly affected by the troubled times, then stand by your people 100%. Don’t hijack the situation, don’t make it about you, just declare loud & proud that your people – whether employees, ambassadors, or clients – are important to you and that you’re prepared to back them:

Nike stands with Sir Mo Farah

As always with branding, it’s not rocket surgery but somehow it seems a lot of brands get it wrong anyway. The short version is just don’t be a doos, as we say in South Africa. Be nice, the world needs more nice right now.


*“Trumpistan” coined by Jacques Rousseau and used with both glee and terror

** Edit: Some clarification on the Uber issue as pointed out by Jacques in an FB response to my post:#DeleteUber is based – in part – on a misrepresentation of the timeline. The NYC taxi unions called for a temporary strike, from 6-7pm. Uber sent out its tweet suspending surge pricing half-an-hour later, so that being reported as a “strike-busting” move is false. Uber did keep running through the strike duration, though, so that should really be the focus of your point.”  Thanks for keeping us focussed on facts, Jacques 🙂

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