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Marketing Brand Safety

Industry insight: what brands should do about the NRA


By Doug Zanger, Americas Editor

February 27, 2018 | 7 min read

The National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to face pressure from brands as public sentiment heats up over the organization. So far, the likes of Hertz, Avis, Norton, MetLife, Lifelock, Delta and United have discontinued partnerships with the NRA.

How brands should approach the NRA and other partnerships

how brands should approach the NRA and other partnerships

Brands that have yet to cut ties are facing increasing calls to act as well, but the NRA has hit back claiming the moves as being motivated by politics.

The Drum asked marketing industry professionals to weigh in with their thoughts on severing ties with the NRA, brand transparency when working with organizations and how those types of partnerships can affect brands.

Do you believe brands should sever ties with the NRA? Why or why not?

I think companies who decide to either abandon their relationship with the NRA, or those who choose to continue to support them send a strong message to the marketplace about their values – and people will read that in ways that connect to their own personal values. The NRA partnership/affiliation decision has ramifications to each business, both positive and negative – but the consumer decision comes down to an issue of shared values.

- Alan Brown, chief executive officer, DNA Seattle

Yes, the org was founded to unite responsible gun owners but has moved out of step with the general population at an institutional level-People are tired of school shootings/avoidable tragedy via bullet. Instead of listening/advocating for smart reform, the NRA has gone on the offensive. While the majority of members are Americans who want their rights protected, alienating a swath of the population by aligning with a gun-lobby funded group outweighs the benefit.

- Chris Sojka, chief creative officer, Madwell

I think it depends on a brand's values, and how those align with the values of the NRA. It is interesting to see so many brands that I wouldn't expect to be jumping on the bandwagon by pulling their NRA support—I hope this means that brands are doing some soul searching on what they really believe in rather than trading on public sentiment.

- Dennis Hahn, chief strategy officer, Liquid Agency

We are in a time of incredible sensitivity about political and social issues, but there's no one size fits all. Each and every brand needs to make their own decisions about third-party relationships in light of how those relationships may or may not impact their bottom line.

- Sherry Smith, senior account director, Clarity PR

Should brands be more transparent about their affiliations with organizations that the US public may deem controversial or polarizing? Why or why not?

Many customers today, particularly younger customers, are demanding greater transparency from the companies and brands they choose to do business with. Brands that are less than transparent will increasingly find themselves neglected by a growing and influential base of customers for whom transparency and disclosure are relevant traits.

- Greg Stern, chief executive officer, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

Yes. Brands need to be proud of who they are and what they stand for. If they're aligned with the NRA, they should be upfront about it and let consumers decide if that's something they're aligned with as well. If they hide their alliances, that seems to suggest a little sheepishness. And besides, consumers will find out anyway.

- Katie Keating, founder, creative director, Fancy

Yes. By affiliating your brand with one of these groups, you are not only giving them money, power and influence over the American political process -- you are essentially endorsing their views (e.g. Urban Outfitters and Target are known to fund anti-LGBTQ causes). Major corporations that lend their equity to more controversial or polarizing organizations must always be transparent -- otherwise what is the point in supporting them?

- Amit Thakkar, founder and chief executive officer,

There are thousands of discount relationships that exist for many businesses – what one views as controversial or polarizing is in the eye of the beholder. Brands run a risk of exposing a bias by being active in some situations. I believe brands actually are bigger and better in tough moments like this, as it’s often when business relationships are tested.

- Erik Requidan, vice president of programmatic strategy, Intermarkets

How do these partnerships/affiliations, in your mind, impact brands either negatively or positively?

As CEOs of modern brands think about navigating today’s political environment, they must consider the changing role of a corporate leadership in terms of the need to take public positions on values and social issues. In the last eighteen months, for better or worse, we have seen the evolution of the “CEO Statesman” in the absence of public trust in business and effective government. There is also a new set of expectations with more socially-conscious millennial workers, a tight labor market and the need to show that you are doing good in the world to attract the best talent. For American brands especially, it’s not just about the bottom line anymore. Customers want to know who you are and what you stand for.

- Karen Kaplan, chief executive officer, Hill Holliday

Look at Under Armour and Papa Johns — who both had CEOs who supported Trump and who both reported losses last year — to see the financial impact of consumers action. Sleeping Giants and the Parkland survivors have been impactful in hitting companies who support hate and now the NRA where it hurts. The time for complacency is over.

- Stefania Pomponi, founder, president, chief evangelist, Clever

The NRA will have a difficult time battling back against this movement. Brands are not willing to appear extreme, and it's risky to associate themselves with the NRA. This era of unprecedented citizen activism is similar to the social upheavals of the 60s, but is amplified through the power of social media and real-time video, giving the masses instant means to magnify and spread this kind of affiliation negatively onto a brand.

- John Barker, president and chief idea officer, Barker

Unless your brand and these types of partnerships/affiliations are in lockstep, there’s a lot of downsides to managing when things go south. My suggestion is that brands filter their affiliations on 1) consistency with their internal corporate values 2) customer values and 3) overall business risk/reward.

- Scott Foreman, managing director, Copacino+Fujikado

See the reactions and insight of industry leaders on other topics in The Drum, including the fallout from CES's lack of keynote diversity in Las Vegas last month.

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