The seemingly never-ending electioneering in America is about to ramp up again as Republican candidates take the stage for the first debate of the 2024 Presidential election cycle. The divisive and often dangerous impact that US politics is having on citizens is clearly undeniable, but that impact has also been crossing over to consumerism and branding—and whether they brought it upon themselves or not, some of the country’s biggest brands could be damaged in the fallout.
A new research report from data and analytics firm Engagement Labs reveals the extent to which polarized politics in America is impacting major consumer brands, creating a new challenge for brand communicators eager to attract consumers across the political spectrum. The firm’s new Brand Marketing Amid Political Polarization report, based on consumer conversation data for nearly 500 brands, finds the conversations relating to almost a quarter (23 percent) of brands are polarized between the warring Republicans and Democrats.
The timely new report comes in the wake of a politically controversial video featuring a trans influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, which provoked boycotts and outrage on social media. Also, after Bud Light lost its first-place ranking in the beer market, the brand’s parent company, AB InBev, placed members of its marketing team on leave and revamped its approach.
The research draws on consumer conversation data that has been shown to be a powerful driver of consumer purchases
Among the key findings, the study reports that, over the last two years, many brands earn equal sentiment among Republicans and Democrats, including Coca-Cola, which has a highly positive net sentiment score of 64 among both Republicans and Democrats, meaning conversations are 64 points more positive than negative for Coca-Cola. Other brands earning equal scores among Democrats and Republicans include Lay’s Chips (+73), Chipotle (+62), Chevrolet (+48), and Gucci (+33).
However, conversations are politically polarized for nearly a quarter of major brands. These include DiGiorno, Vanguard, and Moderna that are much more positive among Democrats, and Olive Garden, Holiday Inn, and Fox News that are much more positive among Republicans. The new study provides a wide scope of data across many other key demographics, media usage and lifestyle categories—providing compelling cross sections of insight.
Brands experiencing political polarization
As the long 2024 Presidential campaign progresses, understanding the risks and opportunities posed by political polarization has become more crucial than ever for brand marketers. This research sheds light on how political beliefs influence consumer conversations and the potential implications for brand reputation and sales.
Some of the biggest differences are found for brands that have been drawn into major political debates, such as the brands behind the biggest COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, which Democrats talk about much more positively than Republicans. But it is not immediately apparent why the restaurant chains Olive Garden and Red Lobster, Holiday Inn, and the consumer brands Jif Peanut Butter and Swiffer are more positively discussed among Republicans. Conversely, it is not clear why DiGiorno pizza and Vanguard investments are more recommended by Democrats.
The data helps to explain the reasons behind these differences. As it turns out, Vanguard investments has been penalized among Republicans for its association with ESG investments. Meanwhile, Olive Garden has been talked about positively by Fox News hosts, leading to positive sentiment for the brand among Republicans.
Disney appears to have weathered the political storm
A prominent example of political polarization is the Disney brand, which recently has become a target of Republican Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. Over the last two years, the net sentiment is 67 for Democrats and 59 for Republicans, a modest difference of 8 points. But since late 2022, when the governor’s disagreements with Disney went public, sentiment has been declining among Republicans while rising slightly for Democrats.
Yet even despite increased political polarization for the Disney brand, sentiment remains strongly positive among partisans on both sides—suggesting the brand has weathered the crisis relatively well.
Engagement Labs’ TotalSocial platform measures online and offline conversations for leading brands. For this report, “Brand Marketing Amid Political Polarization,” analysts focused on the offline conversations of consumers aged 18 to 69. Brand conversations examined have a minimum base of 50 or higher; with an average base size of 269. Net sentiment is calculated by subtracting negative and mixed conversations from positive ones. The higher the score the more positive the conversations.