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What Happens When a Brand Endorses a Candidate

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What Happens When a Brand Endorses a Candidate

Companies work very hard to manage and protect their brands. That involves monitoring a lot of moving parts, including what others are saying about your organization. Sometimes what they’re saying can spiral out of control.

That happened recently to athletic shoe and apparel company New Balance.

On November 15, the Chicago Tribune — along with myriad other news outlets — ran a story about the backlash from recent comments made by the company.

It all started pretty innocently. New Balance manufactures its shoes in the United States and has opposed trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Matthew Lebretton, New Balance vice president of public affairs said: “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”

That’s when things got ugly.

As the Tribune writes:

“The alt-right website The Daily Stormer proclaimed Boston-based New Balance the ‘Official Shoes of White People’ this weekend after company vice president of public affairs Matt LeBretton praised Trump. LeBretton told the Wall Street Journal that the election of Trump was a move in the ‘right direction,’ a comment that caused some people who don’t like Trump to burn their New Balance sneakers.”

New Balance was quick to tell the media that it “does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form,” and released the following statement:

“As a 110-year-old company with five factories in the U.S. and thousands of employees worldwide from all races, genders, cultures and sexual orientations, New Balance is a values-driven organization and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world.”

The association of the company’s brand with white-supremacist ideology has caused backlash among huge numbers of consumers and potential consumers of the brand’s products. Being labeled as “The Official Shoes of White People” not only obviously turns off people of color, but also turns off white people who don’t want to support a brand associated with racist ideals.

In fairness to New Balance, it’s important to stress the fact that the company unequivocally has rejected the support of racists and the label of “The Official Shoes of White People.” However, regardless of New Balance’s position, this story highlights the importance of maintaining an inclusive brand—not only in an international marketplace, let also in an increasingly diverse American market.

New Balance may weather this storm. But it will take more than words. Companies can’t simply claim to be inclusive. They must demonstrate their inclusivity through not only their ideals, but their actions as well. Be inclusive!

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