Every couple of weeks, our PR & Influence strategy team produces Culture Shot, an update that showcases a number of examples of brands achieving cultural relevance under a given theme. This week’s theme is brands getting political.

“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.”

Taylor Swift’s Instagram caption could, and probably should form the basis of a mantra for forward thinking brands seeking to be part of the conversation. In a world where celebrities are as much brands as they are people, the brand of Taylor Swift timed its entrance into the world of political discourse rather elegantly.

While brands have always aligned themselves with soft and one sided social causes, they are increasingly expected to have a political opinion, whether they like it or not. Thanks to a polarising political climate, social issues now come with a hard political edge. Equally, the platform provided by social media, means it has become easy and popular to use political leanings to flesh out the basis for your online persona.

The cliché of the young person who ‘isn’t interested in politics’ is gone and in the UK, 43% of people said they were ‘quite or very interested’ in politics in 2017, up from 36% in 2015.

None of this is news to anyone who has been on the internet recently, but for brands it still looks like a frontier. But amid uncertainty there is opportunity and here we see three very different fashion brands, from niche to mass, relishing the new landscape:

Rihanna makes Fashion Week stand with statement casting
Rihanna has long been praised for her progressive commentary on femininity,  and the SS19 presentation of the Savage x Fenty lingerie only served to further demonstrate her position. Featuring models of all sizes, ages and ethnicities including a heavily pregnant Slick Woods, the cast provided a point of reference for every potential customer on this main stage of celebrated beauty. Called 'brave' by some commentary the Savage x Fenty show sets a social bar of the kind of inclusion and commentary we should be expecting from brands if they are to continue to engage with their audience.
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LFW leads the fur-free charge in response to changing consumer sentiment
Of all the Fashion Weeks, London has always been the more progressive, a pattern that looks set to continue with the announcement that LFW is the first fashion week to go completely fur free. This new position reflects the changing shift in sentiment driven by an increasingly socially conscious customer that wishes to aligns with brands that reflect their thinking. Learning from the overnight mass revolt against single-use plastics it seems that the BFC are pre-empting any customer outrage with a considered political move that places them ahead of the curve.
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Nike demonstrates the commercial benefits of taking a stand
When Nike chose to partner with Colin Kaepernick they knew they were going bold. A brand risk, yes, a business risk, yes, but a clear line in the sand on where they as a company stood on an issue that was dividing the opinions of a nation. Following the initial outrage the anger has dissipated, the fair weather fans may be lost but conversations about Nike continue centred on a subject that truly resonates with the audience. Still a recently launched campaign, the commercial benefits are already apparent with sales growing 31% from Sunday through Tuesday over Labor Day this year.
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Cultural relevance isn’t earned from cherry picking but by taking a stance and taking a part in the conversations that really matter, no matter how uncomfortable. Entering the political sphere in such a divisive way won’t work for every brand, but what is clear is that brands will need to know where they fit on the political spectrum, even if they aren’t necessarily stating it publicly, so that when politics enters their ecosystem, they know how to react.