How to Approach Branding in Today’s Political Atmosphere

By Sarah Williams, Creative Director/Partner, Beardwood & Co.

Regardless of your political persuasion and whether you mourned or celebrated the election’s outcome, it has been, without a doubt, a huge shake-up and wake-up. As we look to find common ground across ideologies and party lines, we will also be looking for certainty, comfort and sources of optimism in what will be an unprecedented year ahead.

Branding will be held to greater tests and higher standards, and for strategists and creatives. During this year, more than any in recent history, we’ll need to be sharply attuned to what people actually need and want. Many of us will be Marie Kondo-ing our lives, taking stock of what matters most, and where we spend our money and energy. Here are three quick thoughts on how to forge the path ahead.


Help Us Navigate Our World

As the election changed our world overnight, with fake news stories flying left and right, we’re now looking for two things: to engage more with trusted sources and for more mental clarity. For example, in just the short time since the election, The New York Times picked up 200,000 subscribers, citing the call for accountability in politics as the main driver. Trust becomes more critical when we experience change, and hard-earned reputations and quality will be galvanizing factors in the months to come.

New brands like Headspace, the guided meditation app, are primed to help us find the clarity and comfort we crave. With soft pastel colors and quirky characters, Headspace brings a new, approachable cool to meditation—offering smartphone moments of clarity as welcome antidotes to the grating 24-hour news cycle. Overall, in the upcoming year, brands should keep things simple, friendly and easy to understand. The world is complex and stressful enough—your brand should be a beacon of hope, security and positivity.

Help Us Reconnect with Core Values

Non-profit organizations, from across the spectrum, are seeing a large and unprecedented uptick in donations, post-election. With the opportunity to express support in the form of a vote concluded, many are taking action by supporting causes aligned with their ideologies.

One example is Patagonia, who made a major impact on Black Friday by donating 100% of their sales to support environmental causes. By upping the stakes and commitment with such singular focus, they actually quintupled their $2MM projected sales figure for the day, and ended up instead at $10MM. While social causes have been somewhat of a cost of entry for many brands, in the foreseeable future we’ll all be looking for more significant and real impact from where we choose to spend our dollars. Brands will need to raise the stakes from small daily good deeds to causing real change.hdl-2017-nodate

As perhaps an end-run against an incoming administration that embraces legacy energy sources, Bill Gates and the world’s wealthiest business leaders are priming us for sea change with a billion dollar investment fund focused on clean energy. Those who lead branding initiatives and businesses at the highest echelons are clearly not backing down from shaping the future. As brand owners and marketers, we too must look for these types of potential catalysts before they catch fire and embrace calculated risk.

Give Rise to Underground Movements

Just as the 1970’s gave birth to punk rock, the expected tumult of 2017 may actually give way to the next counterculture movement, or movements. DIY maker culture is not particularly new at this point, with Maker Faires spawning satellite gatherings and securing corporate sponsors. However, they do bare witness to how kids are undeniably and positively embracing innovation from an early age. If there is an eight year-old kid engaged in maker culture now, think of the potential ideas they could be sharing with the world in the next eight years. It was thrilling to see the presence and engagement of brands like Google, NASA and Barnes & Noble on the ground supporting the maker movement in New York City earlier this fall.

[Related: 13 of the Biggest Logo Transformations from the Past Year | The Physics of Brand: The Evolution of Branding]

Similarly, there is a resurgence around Afrofuturism, where women are leading the charge in blending the aesthetics of science fiction and mysticism of ancient culture. Janelle Monet, Beyoncé and Laura Mvula are creating imagery and performances around their music that transcend the current day, and offer a powerful, hopeful and strong future.

As the tectonic plates of culture continue to shift, our industry will need to stay on the pulse of emerging trends, and smart branding will react to the need to move quickly to stay engaged and relevant. Moving forward, our audiences will be more demanding of what brands and content they let into their lives, looking for more empowerment and positive impact from where they spend their dollars and time.