The Republican National Convention: 50,000 in-person attendees, tens of millions more watching at home, four days of wall-to-wall coverage on TV and online.
What retail brand wouldn’t want a piece of that action, to gain exposure by plastering its name all over the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, this July?
Well … as it turns out, a lot of them wouldn’t. Or, at least, they’re very uncertain about it.
The reason? The prospect of the GOP’s nominee for president being Donald J. Trump.
The New York Times reports that major retail companies, including Coca-Cola, Apple and Walmart, are in various stages of hedging their bets in regards to sponsoring the RNC this year due to the massive number of U.S. citizens — i.e., their consumers — that find the billionaire candidate to be unlikable at best and, at worst, a hate-monger of the highest order whose presidency would thrust human civilization back into the Dark Ages and the planet into thermonuclear war (and not in the aw-shucks, accidental way that teenage Matthew Broderick almost did).
By and large, people who don’t like Donald Trump — and, again, there are quite a lot of them — really don’t like Donald Trump; it’s not a passing interest.
On the contrary, as NYT shares, a number of activist groups that stand in staunch opposition to Trump’s frequently expressed (and only intermittently walked back) views on women and non-Caucasians, among other issues, have organized a campaign to compel companies to refuse to sponsor the convention — an effort that many major brands are taking seriously.
Coca-Cola, for one, has substantially reduced its donation amount to this year’s event from what it gave to the previous RNC — $75,000, down from $660,000 in 2012 — and indicated to NYT that it will not be giving a penny more.
While Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers did not elucidate a particular reason for the company scaling back its funding of the convention, the outlet posits that a petition by the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, which equates corporate sponsorship of this year’s RNC with endorsement of Trump’s “hateful and racist rhetoric,” played a part.
“These companies have a choice right now, a history-making choice,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, told NYT. “Do they want riots brought to us by Coca-Cola?”
I don’t know, Mr. Robinson — Pepsi might not mind that, behind closed doors. But his point — referencing the GOP frontrunner’s warning in a CNN interview earlier this month that there could be “riots” at the convention should his own party contest his nomination — is clear.
Retail brands live and die, effectively, according to the temperature of the majority of their consumers. If there’s a cultural or ethical issue that potential shoppers feel strongly about, companies are best served to make every effort they can to get on the popular side of it, even, in some cases, if that means making a pivot with their business model; otherwise, a brand could find itself in a shadow of negative perception from which it cannot escape.
The question currently facing companies regarding sponsorship of the Republican National Convention is obviously not one whose answer will necessitate a business model shift; it’s a much more cut-and-dry issue of either doing it or not doing it. Retail brands that are in the midst of pondering their involvement in the event need to weigh the pros and cons of either decision based largely on the friction likely to result.
Arguably, the absence of a brand’s name from a gathering at whose center is one of the most divisive figures in the modern history of politics is less likely to draw as much ire (and resultant potential loss of customers) from the field of Trump supporters as would its presence — and its perceived endorsement of hate speech — from Trump’s critics.
To that end, the ostensibly “safer” move for retail companies, like Walmart and Apple, who have yet to decide on their involvement with this year’s RNC, is also the more passive one. For better or for worse, staying out of the potential firestorm altogether might simply turn out to be — both in terms of the effort involved and the degree of consumer backlash — the easier strategy.
And it’s one that many brands appear to be leaning toward, with Republican fundraising consultant Carla Eudy telling NYT: “I have talked to several people at companies who have said, ‘I’ve always gone to the convention. I’ve always participated at some level, but this year, we’re not putting it in our budget. We’re not going. We’re not going to sponsor any of the events going on.’”
Of course … not every brand has the luxury of that option.