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Friday, October 28, 2016

Thinking of Endorsing Trump? Don't.


Four days ago, Eric Trump toured the Yuengling brewery with 73-year-old Dick Yuengling Jr, and declared himself impressed. Thereafter, on behalf of the brewery, Dick endorsed another scion of a famous dynasty for president.
Our guys are behind your father,” Yuengling said. “We need him in there.” 
Care to guess what came next? (Hint: it involved social media.)

It's not surprising that a fifth-generation business owner is a Republican. Nor would his personal support of a political candidate spark outrage and boycotts. But in associating his brewery and its product with a partisan campaign, Yuengling dragged his business into the middle of the ugliest presidential race in two generations. Advice to brewery owners: don't do this. Just don't. There is absolutely no upside to politicizing your product (and this isn't a matter of party--Yuengling would have erred by endorsing Clinton on the brewery's behalf, too), but a number of serious downsides. It will hurt business in the short term, make you some lifelong enemies (many people still nurse a grudge over Coors' anti-union and anti-gay stances of the 1960s-'80s), and tarnish your brand for years.

Yuengling is the fourth-largest brewery in the United States, and sells millions of barrels of beer each year. They appeal to, and depend on, mass appeal. Everything about their business model must depend on broadening their base of support. Choosing to jump into a nasty political campaign means associating your product with, for roughly half your customers base, a deeply loathed figure. (Worse, it is certain to have zero effect on Trump's prospects, particularly in the largely blue-state network in which Yuengling operates. Strategically, this was mammothly boneheaded.)

The rules of branding are simple: associate yourself with generic positive emotional cues. America, mom, apple pie, "innovation," working-class values, a local region, history, etc etc. These are things no one rejects. There are of course more subtle elements of branding that come into play, and courting controversy may be a viable route. But embracing political factionalism is not one of those controversies you want, and it's why so few companies ever do it. (And it's why companies that wander into policy battles or charge there intentionally usually end up walking their support back.) you can discard a failed marketing campaign like an unnecessary coat, and no one will remember it a week later. Supporting a divisive political figure leaves a scent you may never be able to wash off.

I get why Dick Yuengling was seduced into this endorsement. A presidential campaign wooed him; he imagined that putting the weight of his company and customers behind Trump might move the needle more than his private endorsement. But if you're confronted with a similar impulse, resist the urge. It will damage your business in the short term, and your brand will be tarnished for years after everyone has forgotten the politics of that long-ago election. It's just dumb.

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