The Politics of Shopping

I love shoes (understatement) and, obviously, retail innovation. So when I learned a few weeks ago that Barneys New York was opening a really cool new shoe department, I was reaching for my purse and heading out the front door. Finding out that during this launch 10% of any shoe purchase would benefit the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sent me running up Madison Ave.

On that same day, the digi-sphere started clucking about Chick-fil-A’s ongoing contributions to groups that lobby against and Dan Cathy’s stance against gay marriage; and whether my friends agreed or disagreed with their values, they made sure to shout about it on Facebook!

Here were two companies clearly articulating their side of this major political agenda – during an extremely heated election year.

So as a marketer, I wondered: When the pressure to make a political statement peaks, do customers look closer into the politics of their favorite brands to inform their purchase?

For example, some people may choose the notoriously liberal Ben & Jerry’s to make their political statement. Maybe pro-gay-marriage “Hubby Hubby” or the anti-super-PAC “Americone Dream.” Or post-election “Yes Pecan” (“Yes We Can”) created for Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
As marketers, we often recommend affinity-focused feel-good campaigns to help drive choice and loyalty, like (non-polarizing) environmental causes or disease research. With causes like these as part of a politician’s platform, will consumers decide to try a competitor’s superpremium ice cream to show where they stand? Maybe then they’d choose Haagen Dazs, so they can “Buy a Carton, Save a [Honey] Bee.”

Some companies will capitalize on the spirit of election year without choosing a side. And so “hip” 18–30 year olds may choose Urban Outfitters for a “2 Legit 2 Mitt” T-shirt or one that calls for “Four More Years” of Obama. I would love to see those sales figures used as a polling device! Over the last several elections, the unofficial “poll” 7-Eleven conducted with their choice of presidential candidate cups closely predicted those election results.


But what if the brand is not joining the conversation (outwardly) at all? Do customers think about what party or policy is being funded by the brands they buy — if these companies are donating to one side or another? Do they do their research before they reach for their wallets?

Whether your mind-set leaves you seeing Red or feeling Blue, how does that shift your Brand decisions at the store? It’s something to think about, and something we at TPN will be watching closely over the course of this season. And of course, we are hoping for free Starbucks again this year to tell the world “I Voted” on November 6th.

Here are a few resources if you’re curious about where your favorite brands stand: 

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