Politics Advertising Branding

Six times brands got political in their advertising: from Airbnb to Pepsico


By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

September 4, 2018 | 5 min read

In choosing Colin Kaepernick to front Just Do It’s 30th anniversary campaign, Nike took an executive decision that risked incurring negative backlash against the brand. But it's not been the only one.

NFL player Kaepernick protested against racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the US national anthem. Following this, he failed to re-sign with his team, the San Francisco 49ers, with Kaepernick arguing that team owners deliberately cut him as a result of his activism .

In a high-profile act of solidarity, Nike's latest advertising push for its 'Just Do It' campaign runs with a striking image of Kaepernick and the slogan: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

In a time of social unrest, more and more brands are using their advertising budgets to take a political stance. Here are six times they have got involved; for better or for worse.


Jigsaw 'Heart Immigration' manifesto

Just months after the Brexit vote, fashion retailer Jigsaw took a perilous step into a contentious domain: immigration. It challenged the idea that anything (or anyone) is 100% British and proclaimed that "there is no such thing as 100% British."

A bold statement, which they publicly announced via a 'Heart Immigration' manifesto. Printed in national news outlets, including the Guardian, Telegraph and Evening Standard, as well as appearing in a full take-over of Oxford tube station, it made sure its voice was heard.

Despite a few slamming the retailer for getting involved in an area where many felt it didn't belong, the company was generally applauded for the stance.


The epitome of the American Dream, the Cadillac has been seen among the spheres of music, films and literary fiction. But it was a spot that ran as part of the 'Dare Greatly' campaign where the brand proved to be a dab hand in politics.

The spot ran during the 2017's Academy Awards and aimed to help fill the chasm it suggests it very much present in society, offering a message of hope amid the anger and aggression of America’s contentious political climate.

Opening with scenes of street protests, the ad presents an evocative slideshow of humans helping others, to dispense any claim that, in the wake of Trump's shock election, the nation was ‘divided.’

Despite the obvious political undertones, Cadillac's director of brand marketing stated that it is, "neither a political or social statement." Instead, she proclaimed, "it is simply a celebration of the incredible American spirit."


Donald Trump’s travel ban sent a wave of shock across the globe, with people aghast at the hostility it provoked.

Airbnb daringly reacted against this antagonistic act with all-inclusive arms, in a high-profile ad campaign that opposed the ban on refugees and immigrants from mostly Muslim nations.

The advert aired during the Super Bowl and showed an evolving overlay of people of various race, ages and religion, with the hashtag #weaccept.

And it didn't stop there.

Promising to contribute $4m over four years to the International Rescue Committee to support the most critical needs of displaced populations globally, the service pledged it would "start with refugees, disaster survivors, and relief workers, though we want to accommodate many more types of displaced people over time."


Ryanair's 'Brexit Special'

In response to 2016’s EU referendum, Ryanair decided to make light of a difficult subject that was creating a rift across the UK.

Using Brexit as a tongue-in-cheek way to engage with their customers, the airline offered the ‘Brexit Special’ a deal for remainers to ‘fly home and vote.’

That it was actively getting involved in politics is debatable but it was of little surprise when the Vote Leave campaign issued a formal complaint against it, claiming bribery laws has been breached.


Another brand to seemingly comment on President Donald Trump's policies through an advertising campaign was Budweiser, which also used the global draw of the Super Bowl to pay tribute to the company’s immigrant roots.

The advert, titled ‘Born the Hard Way,’ went back in time to highlight Adolphus Busch’s 1857 emigration journey from Germany to the shores of America. Upon arrival, he receives hostility and gets ridiculed for being foreign, before meeting his future partner Ebert Anheuser, through which Budweiser was born.

Trump supporters on social media vowed not to drink the beer again, with the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser trending on Twitter following the ad's airing.


Of all the brand's to have used their advertising efforts to make a political statement, it's Pepsi's infamous Kendal Jenner ad which demonstrates the risks in brands becoming activists.

Countless column inches have been used to criticise the judgment of those who allowed the advert onto the air and failed to recognise its exploitation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ultimately axed, the advert depicts Jenner ending a joyful protest by handing a can of Pepsi to a smiling police officer. Martin Luther King's daughter summed up the feeling towards the ad when she said: "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi."

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