Navigating the Political Landscape Grubor, et. al., (2017) state that the measure of brand equity has changed, that it is “no longer valued only by the amount of money invested in brand communication” (963). They suggest that brand equity, the value of a brand as perceived by the consumer, is now measured by “word-of-mouth communication in the online environment that is sic dictated by various connected consumers” (963). The shift in measurement of brand equity reflects the high level of communication between users online; this is further evident in the increased relevance of consumer reviews on sites such as Amazon. Consumers are more likely to take the word of fellow consumer at higher value than brand-initiated communications. It is therefore increasingly important that a brand has the support of an online base. As previously discussed, social media has prompted many young people to become active in political activism. Jenkins (2017) states that the younger demographic “moves seamlessly between being socially and culturally active to being politically and civically engaged” (35). Young social media users are more accustomed to moving fluidly between social media spaces and being engaged in a variety of communities. It is important for brands to consider the demographic trends among young audiences as this age group generally has not cemented its brand loyalty; a brand that actively courts the young, Internet-active demographic stands to secure a large consumer segment at a lifetime value. As the younger demographic derives a large part of its online engagement from social issues, “it becomes increasingly difficult for brands to take a neutral standpoint when it comes to socially relevant views” (Jenkins, 39). Jenkins establishes that brands should no longer consider a neutral standpoint a safe position. Research suggests that, while gaining the support of the social media active demographic is important, an equally important consideration for brands is avoiding “anti-brand activism.” Anti-brand activism generally occurs when consumers have perceived a moral violation by a brand and organized to take action in response to the perceived transgression. Jenkins elaborates on the risk of anti-brand activism: If brands do not take a clear stance and prove it in their everyday actions, they can anticipate that their most hardcore supporters may be among the first to hold them accountable with little chance of being stopped by the official rights-holders. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. (39)In other words, brands should be prepared for backlash if consumers perceive a brand has taken insufficient steps to position as a force of good. Since word-of-mouth recommendations are vital in today’s marketplace, any negative posts can have a large impact. A variety of companies experienced this in 2017, including United Airlines, Pepsi, and Dove. These companies either failed to meet consumer standards or published misguided content and suffered at the hands of anti-brand activism by many consumers online. Romani, et. al., (2015) discuss how perceived injustices lead to anti-brand activism. They describe anti-brand activism as “boycotting, culture jamming, on-line activism and several other forms of active resistance” that occur due to “individuals’ disapproval of brands” (659). Anti-brand activism happens when consumers mobilize against a brand through a variety of actions. While it generally begins with negative tweets or online posts, anti-brand activism can turn into boycotting, which can severely and negatively impact a company. Anti-brand activism has significant consequences for brands as it represents a viral wave of negative word-of-mouth recommendations. This has substantial implications for managers as avoiding negative publicity is a key motivation for successful brands. Managers should therefore actively avoid moral transgressions and attempt to position their brands in line with social causes. It is important to note, however, that disingenuous actions can be subject to the same backlash as inaction and so brands must behave genuinely and sincerely in regards to social issues. Engaging in Political CommentaryStoekl (2014) analyzes the emergence of “activist brands,” or brands that align themselves with social issues. Their research states that “in the ‘age of transparency’ brands are increasingly forced to position themselves in relation to public sensitivities” (371). The Internet has ushered in an era of information; it is easy to find out anything one might want to know. This unprecedented access to information and discussion (as seen on social networking sites) has added pressure on brands to participate in such conversations. This trend has coupled with the growing desire for “ethical commodity culture” in which consumers invest in brands that have aligned themselves with political or ethical causes (374). Stoekl elaborates that “brand activism mobilized mediated networks of consumers and brand stakeholders to charge the brand with distinct moral positions” (374). In other words, the movement of brands aligning with social causes has led social media users to bombard a brand or company with their moral positions. This has led to the increased pressure on brands to publicly conform with activist causes.Uzuno?lu, et. al., (2017) discuss how brands can utilize corporate social responsibility to engage consumers on social media. Corporate social responsibility initiatives can be analogous to political commentary as, in general, it is wise for brands to take “soft” political stances; brands should not advocate for one political party or candidate but should instead focus on positive social changes (i.e: anti-racism, anti-sexism, pro-environment, pro-acceptance platforms). Uzuno?lu, et. al. (2017), state that it is “necessary” for marketers to “leverage social media to gain…consumer engagement…which leads to essential attitudinal and behavioral outcomes and supportive responses” (989). In other words, brands should utilize social media to converse with consumers in order to build an engaged following. Social media can help brands to gain fans and in turn boost sales. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is important for brands to position themselves as an ultimate good for the consumer. Uzuno?lu and associates (2017) state that CSR has become “more significant than ever, not only in creating and maintaining corporate reputation but also in achieving engagement” (989). CSR indicates to the consumer that a brand is committed to bettering the state of the world through investment in important causes. Consumers respond positively to this and become more engaged with brands that act in this way as it strengthens the emotional bond between brand and consumer. Further, CSR has the potential to increase advocacy for the company as a result of this enhanced relationship. The strong support for this type of communication among consumers is what makes CSR increasingly important for the consumer-brand experience (989).As competition in the marketplace continues to grow, organizations are encouraged to “involve all their stakeholders but particularly the consumer” as this has the greatest potential to generate advocates and an engaged following (990); companies that are engaged with social issues that are relevant to their consumer base “enhance supportive viral outcomes via shared comments, referrals, and views (990). When a brand’s user base believes that brand is aligned with their moral values, the enhanced bond generates positive online support for the company, the presence of which is increasingly important as consumers grow to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations. By advocating for social causes, brands can build consumer loyalty and motivate their loyal following to generate new customer leads. Matos, et. al., (2017) discuss a self-branded connection, a phenomenon in which there is “a perceived identification and personal connection with a brand, and the extent to which a brand reflects the self” (125), and the benefits of using politics in branding. A self-branded connection occurs when consumers identify with a brand and there is a significant connection formed on the part of the consumer. Politics are relevant to the self-branded connection as there is evidence of “political meaning in consumption decisions across an array of categories” (125). Due to the deeply personal nature of politics and the tendency of people to use politics as a core of their identity, it is not uncommon for political leanings to work into seemingly unrelated decisions. Political consumerism is the tendency of consumers to purchase goods only from brands with shared values (125) and further suggest that brands can benefit from aligning with social and political causes. Brands have “evolved from passive labels to active partners in customers’ lives” in the wake of social media’s rise to prominence (127). As social media profiles actively humanize brands, consumers are increasingly inclined to participate only with brands that have a shared system of values. For marketers, this poses a unique challenge to genuinely engage consumers on the basis of social causes without alienating a significant portion of the populations. Matos, et. al., (2017) note, A significant challenge in branding is to break through with highly targeted, emotionally-resonant messages. Linking brands with causes, charities, and political positions targets a psychographic segment, and can generate beliefs that are strongly emotional and untethered to perceptions about product functionality. Marketers hope these associations help develop brand personalities, build customer relationships, and establish and strengthen SBC (126).Marketers utilize political and social causes in order to build emotional bonds with consumers. By generating content that resonates emotionally with consumers, the relationship between brand and consumer grows. This has significant impact in the age of social media as viral content is a goal of social media marketers. DiscussionEngaging in political discussions can be beneficial to brands as it works to build relationships with consumers. An increasing amount of consumers, particularly in the younger demographic, are becoming politically engaged. As political engagement and awareness increases, there are a growing amount of consumers engaging in political consumerism and anti-brand activism. Brands have the opportunity to build relationships with consumers aligned with political causes by generating content with strong emotional appeal to consumers. Political statements by brands strengthen the self-branded connection and generate loyalty among consumers. As a growing segment of the youth demographic utilizes social media to be politically engaged, brands looking to attract this demographic must engage in political commentary as a means to align the brand with the values of these consumers. Since these consumers are members of the youngest demographic, moral alignment involves the lifetime value of these consumers. Additionally, as word-of-mouth recommendations become critical to brand success, developing a strong community of brand admirers is key in the social media age. Karlsson, et. al., (2017), discuss that “although taking a political stance previously has been avoided, the most distinct trend during the 2017 Super Bowl Advertisements, as well as during the 2017 Oscars, was to take a political stance” (2). It appears that the era of staying silent on matters of politics has passed as brands become increasingly intertwined within the fabric of everyday life. Major companies willing to publicize political viewpoints suggests that there is much to gain (ethically and economically) through such statements. Messages of acceptance have proven to be a worthy investment as politics and lifestyle collide. As politics and lifestyle are increasingly intertwined, brands are more willing to utilize political commentary to their benefit. Brands are being held accountable by consumers through the use of anti-brand activism in the case of moral transgressions; this has been seen through the treatment of a variety of companies, most recently H, on social media. Social media has become critical for wide-scale, global discussions on topics such as equality and fairness, as shown by the many social media movements in 2017, culminating in the #MeToo movement which was featured in Time Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year issue. It is clear that political movements are becoming central to the social media experience. Brands don’t exist in a vacuum and consumers are counting on them to step up to the plate and combat injustice.