Becoming President-elect has not redeemed Trump’s brand in the eyes of other brands. After the election, Macy’s announced that Trump brand clothing would not find its way back in to the retailer’s stores, after it had stopped carrying the collection more than a year ago.
At the time, Trump hit back with a statement about not wanting the retailer’s partnership, accusing Macy’s of “supporting illegal immigration.”
New Balance, (the global athletic shoe and apparel brand headquarted in Boston) posted a statement on Twitter to reassure consumers. But it was too little,—the brand was already part of a nationwide attack on its products by consumers posting videos of themselves ditching or burning their shoes in response to what they thought was New Balance’s pro-Trump statements.
The cause for the outcry: An executive from the Massachusetts-based brand told a reporter he thought America would “move in the right direction” with Donald Trump in the White House. That sparked outrage among New Balance owners, who began posting pictures on social media of throwing their sneakers in the trash. In some cases, outraged customers even set the shoes ablaze.
Consumer reaction based on the belief that New Balance is endorsing Trump is very much a confusion of the brand’s position. In the midst of the outcry, New Balance’s exec struggled to clarify his statement to sources saying the support was only for Trump’s stance against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. “It’s inaccurate. Everything I’ve said is in the context of trade,” the exec commented. But we believe this is just a façade. Recall that New balance had been in talks to secure training kits deal with the US Army and with Trump being elected as president now, a supportive tweet should just only strengthen that partnership away from competitors like Nike sports. Read more about the bill and Nike sports/New Balance brand war about securing the USMC training kit account here.
There is a good reason why brands generally keep their heads down about political matters. New Balance’s attempt to give context to the earlier statement was overshadowed by the social media outrage. When New Balance finally did respond on Twitter, its message was general and inoffensive. It did not specifically address the issue and in turn was derided by consumers who did not see a denial, but a corporate-speak jumble of words.
Had New Balance posted a strong denial of its support for Trump and an apology about statements taken out of content, the brand might have stemmed the backlash. It did not. What’s worse, New Balance’s statement about being in New England opened the door for critics to point out its shoes are made in Vietnam:
It then released the following statement to the press in a further clarification:
“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade and trade policy in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less. New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today.”
New Balance didn’t deserve an unsophisticated response to a sophisticated problem about global trade. At the same time, the brand exec who made the comment was the vice president of public affairs, a position that should clearly be aware of the national tension in the wake of Tuesday’s voting, and more importantly of the fact that sneaker fans are predominantly young consumers and Trump lost the under-30-year-old vote by wide margins in every single US state.
Such demographic voter information should be the first thing brand managers know walking away from the election. Millennials and young consumers strongly rejected Donald Trump. Anything even tangentially associated with Trump is brand poison, at least in the short term.
There is certainly a different tone in Macy’s latest remarks about why Trump brands remain banned. In 2015 at the time of the ban, as Macy’s told CNN, “We do not believe the disparaging characterizations portray an accurate picture of the many Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Latinos who have made so many valuable contributions to the success of our nation.”
But yesterday, Macy’s CEO told reporters:
“[W]e wouldn’t carry product from a political candidate—and now a politician—whether they be Republican or Democrat. If Hillary Clinton had a line of women’s suits or handbags, I wouldn’t carry those either. I just think we don’t want to be a politically associated company. We sell to everybody at Macy’s and have a broad and diverse customer base.”
Trump’s trade policies are already receiving attention. Mexico says it might be willing to “modernize” NAFTA but says no renegotiation will happen. For othera, Trump’s tough talk of tariffs and walls has cast a shadow over billions of dollars of investment from major brands.
Mazda’s North America strategy counts on the NAFTA deal in its current form. Everything from the future of Mexican avocados to cerveza is unknown. Mexican beer brand Corona joined Tecate and Johnnie Walker with anti-“Trump wall” messaging with a new ad: “Smash the Wall” read more here.
The looming unknown sent the Mexican peso crashing the day after the election.
Donald Trump’s US presidential victory has been credited in part to struggling Americans looking in their wallets and dwindling bank accounts and wanting to send a message to Washington DC.
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