Brain Chatter: Brands That Take a Stand

June 21, 2017 Shane Schick

As hashtags go, #boycottdolcegabbana is a little long for platforms like Twitter and Instatram. It does, however, fit nicely on a T-shirt.

A T-shirt from Dolce & Gabbana.

Wait, what?

Just a few weeks ago, the fashion label took a surprisingly strong stand against consumers angry about its decision to continue outfitting First Lady Melania Trump by creating clothes that essentially co-opt the haters’ key message. Besides the hashtag, the T-shirts also feature a big, red heart -- perhaps suggesting that the only response to the outcry is a little love.

This is not marketing as usual. This is the marketing equivalent of jujitsu -- a martial art where you turn your attackers’ strengths against them.

This goes way beyond Wendy’s snarky comments online against MacDonald’s, because no one was intentionally pitting the two fast food brands against each other. Dolce & Gabbana are doing what many other brands admit they’re frightened to do.

In fact, an ad industry association called 4A’s recently conducted a poll that showed 33% of brands are reluctant to take a political stance and 14% are concerned about taking a social stance. Those aren’t majorities by any means, but they show the caution that continues to exist despite all the talk about brands having a “purpose.”

What Dolce & Gabbana is doing isn’t necessarily a political decision. Nowhere has the company commented publicly about U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies. The T-shirts and the hashtag seem more like a comment about its fierce independence as a business -- something that would be celebrated in almost any other circumstance.

I’m not trying to lionize the company here, nor Wendy’s or any other brand. Dolce & Gabbana is simply one example in a larger conversation. No matter how you feel about Melania Trump, though, directly disagreeing with your customers through marketing takes courage, and creates an unforgettable impression. It boosts awareness. It provokes consumers to make a choice.

In other words, it does everything that good marketing is supposed to do.

Taking a stand against your customers don’t have to be polarizing, of course. It could be a matter of clarifying the brand’s stance, or providing more context about a decision it has made. Compared with previous tactics of trying to make every product seem unique, exclusive and intended only for “smart” consumers, however, there’s something refreshing about brands who opt for the “you’re either with us or against us” approach.

It’s not just a matter of being provocative, though, or assuming “haters gonna hate.” When brands stand up to their customers, it should be part of a real dialogue about whatever’s being debated. You can take a stand while also being open to feedback.

Brands are always saying they want to be in a relationship with consumers.

Well guess what?

Relationships take work. 


Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more. ShaneSchick.com. 


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