At Blade, we’ve always believed that Brand Values are an important part of the brand community building process. If your customers can identify with your brand and believe there is a commonality that they can embrace, there is a stronger likelihood of a long, profitable relationship.
Right now, America is finding out first hand what happens when you start to abandon your brand values. Donald Trump, through his anti-immigrant rhetoric and White Supremacist apologism has turned the country’s back on the very cornerstones it was built on. His many sides speeches, his refusal to stand up against violent, racist groups that support him, and his own hate filled talking points have been a major hit to the American Brand.
Step away from the Trump storyline for a moment and concentrate on the racist and anti-semitic values of Nazis and those who support them. Going back to WW2, Hitler’s Nazis were branded, and not just with the Swastika. They used slogans, propaganda, and even influencers to push their agenda forward.
The same thing is happening with the fringe right in North America right now. The same slogans are being used by Nazi and Confederate flag wavers, marching to save their symbols or rebellion and oppression in the south.
These branding ideas that advertisers and businesses use today to sell products and services, they apply to ideas as well. Donald Trump himself used Make America Great Again as his branding slogan to win the 2016 election. And in winning, he transferred the slogan, and the values of the Trump brand to the brand of America.
Recently, one of Trump’s team members, senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, expressed in an interview that the famous poem, The New Colossus, engraved on the lower level of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, has less significance because it was added to the statue after it was constructed.
The poem, if you don’t recognize the name, has two verses, including this second, and most famous one:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It’s true that the poem was engraved in 1903, 17 years after the original dedication of Miss Liberty, but it was written in 1883 to help raise funds for construction of the statue’s pedestal. And, regardless of its original publishing date, the words engraved have long been held as an important part of America’s values.
For Donald Trump, his team, and by extension, brand America to turn their back on those values is a foolish and rash decision made for the short term changes that Donald Trump’s campaign promises and threats offered to his disenfranchised base.
Last Monday, after the reprehensible actions of White Nationalists, Nazis and other White Supremacist groups in Virginia, at least three prominent business people resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council. The resignations came after Trump’s initial toothless and meaningless response to the racism, violence and murder that took place by those who vocally support him.
Update: Trump has disbanded the council altogether, removing the possibility for more CEOs to make public resignations.
Kenneth Frazier (CEO at Merck & Co.), Kevin Plank (CEO at Under Armour), and Brian Krzanich (CEO at Intel) all resigned from the manufacturing council, cutting ties with the administration and its stance (or lack thereof) on the racist actions. As Americans, it was the right thing to do, and for their brands it was right as well.
This past Friday, the President’s entire Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned as well, saying in a joint letter, “Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions… Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.”.
We are not writing this post to pat these people on the back. But we do acknowledge the changing tides and willingness of Americans and American brands to defy the President and take a stand for what they believe in. Anyone with Twitter, or their finger on the pulse of Donald Trump’s penchant for the 140 character messaging service, has seen his attacks on brands like Nordstrom, General Motors, The Washington Post, CNN, and others. So we can understand why brands want to avoid that public ire.
And, in fact, Trump did take a shot at Frazier and Merck & Co. on Twitter the day of his resignation.
Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
With approval ratings falling and a small minority of true supporters in his corner (a 37.7 approval rating), the time is now for brands to distance themselves from the current President and his administration.
Brands that fear a tweet from Donald Trump need to start fearing tweets and actions from their brand communities, Americans and shoppers worldwide. The patience of Trump’s opposition has worn thin, and apologists like Dow Chemical Co.’s chief executive Andrew Liveris, who released his own statement, but refused to call out the President or resign from the council, are facing pressure as well.
Six months before he resigned from the manufacturing council, Kevin Plack of Under Armour praised Trump, saying, he’s a “real asset for the country”. That quote didn’t sit well with Under Armour’s very influential sponsored athletes. Celebrity sports stars including Stephen Curry, Misty Copeland and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson all spoke out against the comments. The brand community has also spoken, with Under Armour stock dropping from $21.60 on the February 10th when the comments were made, to $18.83 on August 14th when Plack resigned from Trump’s council.
There is also a mobile app, called Boycott Trump!, that lists brands with a connection to Donald Trump either financially, or because of support from the brand to the President. Forbes reported in February 2017 that there were more than 325,000 users and lists about 250 companies that the app’s developers believe are pro-Trump. These users, members of countless brand communities, are being exposed to information that may influence them to abandon brands who are aligned with Donald Trump and 2017’s brand America.
Brands that respect themselves and their brand community will always have an ability to grow and prosper. Those who do not, brands that ignore the opinion of their current brand community, and potential members of their community, do nothing but open themselves up to the risk of boycotts, brand community defections, and embarrassing failure. Remember Lululemon and the fiasco they found themselves in after this: “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there.”
The statement from brand founder Chip Wilson went directly against the brand values of Lululemon and there was immediate backlash. Finally, it took more than apologies, and Wilson leaving the company was the move that had to be made for Lululemon to begin to regain the trust that was lost by abandoning their brand values.
The importance of brand values in times like these is massive. And brands that stick to their values can and will be rewarded. Starbucks, Apple, Google, and more have responded to Trump’s Muslim-ban and his racist apologism by doubling down on their brand values, and the values of their internal and external brand communities.
Starbucks stood up for their brand’s values when Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban was proposed. Even going so far as to announce that they would hire 10,000 immigrants in 75 countries over the next five years, as well as committing to support employees if the government repealed the Affordable Care Act. 
— Starbucks News (@Starbucksnews) January 29, 2017
More recently, Apple CEO, Tim Cook wrote an email to all of the brand’s employees . The letter condemned hate and racism, and pledged a donation of $1 million each to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. It also promised to match, two-for-one, our employees’ donations to these and several other human rights groups, between now and September 30.
Whether you like their coffee and cellphones or not, it is clear that these brands have made the decision to stand by their brand values, and rebel against the new values of brand America that Donald Trump, his team, and the racist activists that support him have worked to implement.
Brands like Apple and Starbucks, who continue to hold onto their core brand values and align themselves with the majority of Americans, can and will be rewarded through loyalty, growth, and the knowledge that in the end, they will have been on the right side of history.