brand storytelling — August 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Will Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Controversy Tarnish Brands?

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tarnished-brand smarterstorytelling.comBrands can get burned when they step too close to a political firestorm such as the one surrounding Representative Todd Akin in connection with his recent controversial comments on rape.

Akin raised a total of $337,859 from PACs in 2011-2012 (source: opensecrets.org).
This reflects this most current Federal Election Commission data as of 8/06/2012.

PAC donations to Akin’s campaign represent less than a third of the $1.3 million raised in this period (most of Akins’ donations came from individuals). Still, brands donated a significant amount of cash to Akin in this most recent election cycle:

Anheuser-Busch/InBev $10,000
AT&T Inc $5,000
Babcock & Wilcox $1,000
Boeing Co $10,000
Edward Jones $5,000
Emerson $10,000
Enterprise Rent-A-Car $10,000
General Dynamics $10,000
General Electric $6,000
General Motors $1,000
Honeywell International $10,000
Lockheed Martin $2,000
Maersk Inc $1,000
Monsanto Co $3,500
Northrop Grumman $10,000
Pfizer Inc $2,000
Raytheon Co $2,000
Rolls-Royce North America $2,000
United Parcel Service $2,000
Union Pacific Corp $1,000

The majority of brands listed above do not produce goods or services that consumers can buy directly. They are not therefore directly vulnerable to boycotts. But enough of them — including Annhauser-Busch/InBev, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, GE, GM, Pfizer, and UPS — do, and are therefore exposed to boycotts or other adverse consumer actions on social media channels or in “real life.”

What should brands do in this situation? In our view it would be a mistake for social media and PR representatives of these brands to be unresponsive to queries from reporters and/or concerned citizens in the next few weeks. It is imperative that any exchanges with the public be open, honest, and candid in the next several weeks as the Akin issue plays out in the public eye.

It is still too early to know whether the Akin affair will blow over quickly or simmer until the election. But brands need to be prepared for blowback. Their representatives need to be able to discuss whether and to what degree their employers’ past support of Representative Akin represents an endorsement of his views on rape and other issues important to women.

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