Why Colin worked and Kendall didn’t.


It’s hard to bypass cultural controversy right now. Every Facebook feed’s getting an earful, the local pub’s capitalising on it for quiz night and Trump’s spitting his opinion through twitter. But what’s the story with brands jumping into the controversial conversations? Is it risky? Beneficial? Just plain stupid? And is their really no such thing as bad publicity? Here’s my take on its risk – and ‘rewards’.


We’ve seen plenty of brands take liberty on social and political issues. All in the hopes of growing their fan base – and revenue. Nike has always backed the independent power of athletes to push through and follow their passions and dreams. That’s why it wasn’t a giant leap to get behind an athlete taking a stand (or kneel), like Colin Kaepernick – for the uninitiated, he’s an NFL player who protested police brutality towards African Americans – and lost his job for doing so.

Nike continued to push Colin’s protest forward, with the simple yet powerful message “Believe in something. Even if it means losing everything”.  

Being banned from the NFL for his actions, Colin had already accepted career defeat. Nike, on the other hand, managed to boost their market value by six billion. And even though things worked in their favour, being part of such a divide shows just how much the brand was willing to risk – reputation, fans, profit. Proving that authenticity goes a heck of a lot further than lukewarm selling. Most of the time.


Pepsi, meanwhile, have always hijacked popular entertainment culture to sell soft drinks. Michael Jackson, Britney Spears – theirs is a story of buying into the zeitgeist rather than leading it. Hence their choice of Kendall Jenner to help them tell their narrative, which was universally accepted as outrageously shit. The arrogance of suggesting that a sugary drink can solve a social issue in such a simple way is as far from authentic as you can get. Add to that the offensiveness and tone deafness of paying a white woman to wade into the Black Lives Matter movement. To make matters worse, their act of stupidity didn’t seem to hurt stock price or soda sales. 


Without stating the obvious, I’ll say that certain topics are appropriate for certain brands. And if yours gets it half decent, it could propel you to stardom, or at least win you a few brownie points. So if you’re a brand or a human with a cohort of loyal followers, consider these things before proceeding down the political pathway:

Be authentic. That goes without saying. And should be behind whatever you put forward.

Do your homework. If your facts aren’t straight, there’s every chance you’ll be called out.

You’ve got to commit. Once the internet knows you’re on board, there’s no going back.

Finally, ask yourself a few hard-hitting questions. Are there clear benefits? Are you politically charging your campaign for financial reasons only? Does your brand have the voice and know-how to be touching on such stuff? After all, mixing toothpaste promotions with propaganda preaching won’t be taken lightly.

And if it doesn’t feel right – it probably isn’t. But in any case, ask your grandma.  

Georgia Middleton