Should Businesses Meddle With Politics?

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Starbucks has gained both positive and negative attention for announcing it would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide.

We all know the old adage, “Don’t talk politics or religion in public.” Why? Comments made in these conversations usually result in heated arguments, hurt feelings, or in this case, a change in your business’ image – either for better or worse.

In 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO and devout evangelical Christian, Dan Cathy, made headlines when proclaiming that his company supported only “traditional,” non-gay families and was “very much” against gay marriage. Cathy’s homophobic remarks set off a wave of protests and backlash from the public, ranging from nationwide boycotts of the restaurant to lost partnerships with companies like the Jim Henson Company. Cathy caught a lot of flak for his comments, but it should be noted, however, that some applauded Cathy for his views and beliefs, turning up to Chick-fil-A restaurants in droves to uphold the company. Conservative Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee even went so far as to establish a ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’ in response to the backlash against the company from the LGBTQ community. Oddly enough, despite the mass amount of negative PR in the months following Cathy’s comments, Chick-fil-A’s annual sales for the year of 2012 grew 12% to $4.6 billion.

So is this to say that companies should all make radical homophobic claims in hopes of boosting their sales? Definitely not. To start, the LGBTQ community has made massive progress over the past five years, and anti-gay comments are met with much more criticism rather than acceptance nowadays. In addition, as previously mentioned, customers who shared Cathy’s beliefs became more loyal to the brand and frequently visited restaurants. Even people who had never even eaten at Chick-fil-A prior to Cathy’s comments turned up to show their support. When considering these aspects among others, we can see how Chick-fil-A escaped this PR-nightmare with fairly minimal damage compared to other huge companies who might find themselves in such a situation.

Fast forward to 2017: Donald Trump has managed to clinch the title of America’s 45th President. A large majority of our nation is displeased and are making sure their frustrations are heard. In addition to protesting and petitioning against Trump himself, Americans have begun boycotting companies who conduct business or have any relation with the Trump Administration through an initiative titled #GrabYourWallet. Shannon Coulter, co-founder of the #GrabYourWallet movement, started the boycott on October 11th, 2016 with its intent being for consumers to contact businesses who “…do direct, monthly business with the Trump family…” and inform these companies that they will no longer shop there as long as they are affiliated with Donald Trump. The list of brands on the #GrabYourWallet boycott ranges from retailers who carry Trump products like Amazon, Bloomingdale’s, and DSW, to firms like Uber, LL Bean, and Hobby Lobby whose CEO’S individually raised funds for, supported, or endorsed Trump. The movement has gained major traction over the past couple months, and has found success in getting brands like Shoes.com, Bellacor, Jenny Craig, Wayfair, Zulily, RueLaLa and Kawasaki to cut their relations with all things “Trump”. Although some might consider the #GrabYourWallet movement rash, it speaks to the public’s disdain with its nation’s commander-in-chief.

However, this isn’t to say that all political talk ends with backlash from consumers. While protestors boycott a brand for its political views, consumers with similar ideologies show it more support than ever. Such is the case with the recent #BoycottStarbucks trend – a movement initiated primarily by Trump supporters in response to Starbucks’ announcement that the company planned on hiring 10,000 refuges to work in its stores over the next five years. While some consumers are protesting the brand, those outraged with Trump’s recent executive order on immigration are showing more support than ever, applauding Starbucks and starting a #DrinkStarbucks hashtag in response.

Expressing outright political views is still seemingly taboo for companies, however, we’ve seen that communicating political affiliation correctly can actually bring brands and consumers closer together. In the end, firms who should proceed with caution when speaking on such matters. They should possess a clear awareness and understanding of both their customer base and own brand image, and how political affiliations can thwart this image in the mind of the public.

The Business of Breast Cancer

It’s October, and that means that nearly every brand on the market has modified its product line to reflect one of two themes: pumpkin-spice or breast cancer awareness (BCA).

Splashes of bright pink can be seen on jewelry, apparel, food products and various other consumer goods. Brands like Clinique, Yoplait and Lokai show their support for cancer patients and survivors by donating a portion of profits from their BCA-specific products to organizations such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Bright Pink. While many companies do good for the breast cancer community, some take advantage of exploiting the fact that the use of breast cancer images/symbols on products is very minimally regulated. Currently, there are no rules or restrictions governing the use of the breast cancer ribbon, the color pink, or words such as ‘hope,’ ‘love,’ or ‘survivor’ on a consumer good. According to doctors Jennifer Harvey and Michal Strahilevitz, “…any corporation is free to use the pink-ribbon symbol, including those selling products that may increase women’s risk for developing breast cancer.” [1] Due to this lack of regulation, brands can mislead customers into thinking they sell BCA products, or that proceeds from said purchases will be donated to cancer research.

For example, the other day I opened one of the fifteen weekly e-mails I receive from ULTA Cosmetics, a popular makeup-store chain, and noticed that the message focused on breast cancer awareness.
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Out of the twenty products promoted in the e-mail, all of them were pink, some had breast cancer ribbons (one lipgloss shade was even named ‘Survivor’), but not one mentioned a partnership with breast cancer support group/organization. The pink-ribbon adorned ‘Smashbox’ primer showed slight promise considering the product tagline on the website  read “Giving is Gorgeous!” but ultimately, none of the sale proceeds were donated to a notable cause.

I understand the whole “raising awareness” positioning that companies like ULTA Cosmetics take, but is there really anyone in this world who isn’t aware of the deadly disease? Although I’m not undermining the good that results from bringing awareness to breast cancer, it’s evident how companies can exploit this issue for their own benefit. More often than not, the breast cancer ribbon is just a PR-tool that organizations use to improve their public image without actually donating to the cause, and one major overlooked culprit is the National Football League.

For the entire month of October, all 32 NFL teams get decked out in pink gear – cleats, headbands, towels etc. to show their support for breast cancer victims, survivors and affected loved ones. Sure, this color combination looks great on the field but does it do much else? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that these guys are willing to rock hot pink for the good of others, however, the NFL reaps the benefits of being associated as a breast cancer supporter without doing a great deal to benefit the cause. While the NFL does raise millions for the American Cancer Society through its licensed pink merchandise sales, raising money and donating are completely different. According to Business Insider, for every $100 made through pink merchandise sales, only $8.01 makes its way to the American Cancer Society research funds. [2] The remaining ninety-something dollars are lost in retailer, merchandise, royalty and administrative fees. A breakdown of a NFL pink merchandise sale is shown below:

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While some might say “an $8 donation is better than nothing”, it seems unfair to illicit purchases from consumers who don’t realize that only a tiny part of the money they spend actually gets donated to a worthy cause. If you’re looking to do your part in supporting the cause, consider giving to the National Breast Cancer Foundation or similar foundations, where you can be assured your donations will be utilized to directly benefit those affected by breast cancer.

Stephanie Khodzhayan

Sources:

[1] Gaines, Cork. “A Shockingly Small Amount Of Money From Pink NFL Merchandise Sales Goes To Breast Cancer Research.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

[2] Mulcahy, Nick. “A Call for Responsible Use of Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer.” Medscape Multispecialty. Medscape, 6 Jan. 2009. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

Can the WNBA be Saved?

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“Hey, can you turn on ESPN? I can’t miss the WNBA game tonight.”

That’s a phrase you’ve probably never heard anyone say without a hint of sarcasm in their voice or a smirk on their face. Let’s be honest, the last time you watched a WNBA game was most likely while scanning Buffalo Wild Wings to find your waitress and caught a glimpse of the Liberty vs. Mystics game out of the corner of your eye. Unfortunately, even though WNBA players put on a great athletic performance, they can’t seem to convince Americans to tune in and watch them play.

The Women’s National Basketball Association was originally founded about 20 years ago in April 1996 as the sister-league for the NBA. Since its inception, the organization has grown to a twelve-team league – the most notable of which include The New York Liberty, Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury. When the league was formed, executives were under the impression that the WNBA would have a much larger fan base and be a lot more popular than it has shown to be. NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, has frequently spoken out about how he expected viewership for the WNBA at this point in time to be at much higher levels than numbers presently show. At an industry press conference in September, he stated “We thought we would have broken through by now…we thought ratings and attendance would be higher.” [1] Unless changes are promptly enacted to increase viewership for games, it doesn’t look as if the WNBA will ever ‘break-through’ to the American public.

According to the SportsBusiness Journal, last season the WNBA struggled to draw in even a mere 200,000 viewers per game. Even the league’s most-anticipated playoff games brought in only 489,000 viewers over the three-game stretch. [2] To compare, this year’s 2015 Warriors-Cavs Playoffs had record-high ratings of nearly 20 million viewers across the six game series. [3] What’s the reason behind the vast viewership difference between the two leagues? Both organizations play the same game, with virtually the same rules – however, the WNBA falls short in matching the energy, enthusiasm and fan base present at NBA games.

A large and obvious part of this difference stems from the fact that female athletes simply don’t have as much raw strength, power and skill as their male counterparts. Male athletes are stronger, larger and have more endurance than females, and are therefore more interesting to watch. But another, less considered reason for this viewership gap is the fact that there are virtually no marketing efforts attempting to push viewership for WNBA games. Really, when was the last time you saw an ad prompting you to watch an WNBA game? There have been hundreds of TV spots, billboards and radio ads created for the NBA – but very few for the WNBA. Adam Silver realizes this, and has been making an active attempt to push marketing efforts for the NBA’s sister league.

The first big push comes as a minute-long TV spot titled “Watch Me” urging viewers to, well, watch the WNBA. The video highlights the ladies’ skills on the court as great basketball players, and also off the court as devoted mothers, wives and role models. The clip conveys an important message to viewers: that aside from the physical work and training these ladies devote their time and energy to, they also have families, children, and fans which take up a large part of their lives. Sure, these female players  don’t have the power or strength of men, but they should be admired for reasons other than just athletic ability. Women are expected to be the ones who deal with family, children, cooking, playdates, grocery shopping, housework, appointments, etc. so the fact that these ladies can manage a full-time career playing professional basketball on top of that is truly commendable.

If Silver really wants to hammer home the idea of WNBA players being ‘family-women’ athletes, he should seek out a network that’d be willing to give them a reality TV show so the public can really appreciate how much effort goes into balancing work/family life as a WNBA player. Plenty of successful shows like WAGS, Basketball Wives, and Football Wives film the daily lives of NBA and NFL players’ wives/girlfriends – so why not devote a show to WNBA players too? Take E!’s hit show, Total Divas, for example. The show follows the drama and events that unfold in the personal lives of WWE’s clique of female wrestlers, while focusing a great deal on their athletic careers as well. As a result of the show, more people than ever are talking about the WWE and its Diva Division. WWE reports that Total Divas, along with its other reality TV show, Tough Enough, have “ ..expanded WWE’s weekly television audience by nearly 5 million unique viewers.” [4]

Watching a reality show about the lives of WNBA players would personally make me a lot more inclined to watch them play in the league. Knowing a player’s backstory and personality makes it more interesting to root for (or against) her and her team. For example, I knew virtually nothing about the WWE before Total Divas aired, but after watching the show a few times I now know who/what the “Divas” are and even follow a couple of them on Instagram. Seeing as how well Total Divas led to an increase in brand awareness and total overall and unique viewership for the WWE, I would say that Adam Silver could expect to see a sharp rise in live-viewers and ticket sales for WNBA games if he gave the idea for a reality show some consideration.

Stephanie Khodzhayan

[1] Baysinger, Tim. “Here’s What the WNBA Is Doing to Get You to Watch Its Gams.” ADWEEK.com. ADWEEK, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

[2] Paulsen. “2014 WNBA Finals Hits Multi-Year Viewership High.” SportsMediaWatch.com. Sports Media Watch, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

[3] Rovell, Darren. “Finals Earn Highest Ratings since Michael Jordan’s Last Title in 1998.” ESPN.com. ESPN, 18 June 2015. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

[4] “Financials.” WWE Corporate. WWE, 2015. Web. 13 Oct. 2015