- A variety of brands took to social media Thursday to condemn riots at the U.S. Capitol from supporters of President Donald Trump, breaking a relatively quiet period around Wednesday's insurrection itself.
- Ben & Jerry's offered one of the strongest rebukes to the president and a mob he incited, calling the event "a riot to uphold white supremacy" in a Twitter thread. The Unilever-owned ice cream brand capped off the posts with a call for Trump to resign, be impeached or be removed from power under the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and the majority of the Cabinet to rule a president is unfit for office.
- Other marketers, including The Coca-Cola Company, shared denunciations in less strong terms, criticizing the violence and pleading for a peaceful transfer of power, something Trump committed to late Thursday. The outpouring of statements decrying the riots illustrates how brands are trying to navigate an incredibly precarious moment for democracy while promoting a positive public image.
With more companies chiming in to condemn riots that shook the nation Wednesday, Ben & Jerry's stance stands out. Not only did the brand call for Trump's removal from office, it also referred to the riots as "a failed coup" attempt — language that many media outlets have avoided applying to the extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, the ice cream marketer praised Senate runoff election victories of Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who will together flip control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats.
"We saw two Americas yesterday. In one America we saw record voter turnout driven by Black voters that resulted in the election of the first Black and first Jewish senators from the state of Georgia—our democracy at its best," Ben & Jerry's wrote on Twitter. "In the second America we saw a mostly white mob, encouraged by the president, violently invade the seat of our democracy in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. It was a failed coup—our democracy in peril."
Yesterday was not a protest—it was a riot to uphold white supremacy.— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) January 7, 2021
Even as purpose-driven marketing around social issues grows more common, direct condemnations or endorsements of politicians remain rare, along with the application of loaded terms like "White supremacy." But Ben & Jerry's has claimed a larger stake in activist marketing over the years, and Thursday's proclamations align with the company's support of groups like Black Lives Matter — a cause that came to the fore during last summer's protests for racial justice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Brands sharing outwardly political messages can alienate consumers who may not agree with the views, particularly as the country remains deeply ideologically divided. However, remaining silent on important national conversations carries its own risks. Many marketers have curtailed announcements and paused campaigns in response to the insurrection Wednesday, but enacting overly stringent brand safety measures — including extensive keyword block lists for websites — can harm the revenue of publishers reporting on critical news developments. Young consumer groups, who tend to lean progressive, also increasingly expect brands to back causes they care about.
Yet, consumers can prove fickle when it comes to their appetites for brands joining in on contentious discussions, as recent social media rabble shows. After a Washington Post reporter tweeted a photo of a can of Axe body spray that was left by rioters at the Capitol Wednesday, the brand — another Unilever-owned product — tried to do damage control.
"We'd rather be lonely than with that mob," Axe wrote on Twitter. "AXE condemns yesterday's acts of violence and hate at the Capitol. We believe in the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power."
We'd rather be lonely than with that mob. AXE condemns yesterday's acts of violence and hate at the Capitol. We believe in the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power. https://t.co/vX727ZfvS8— AXE (@AXE) January 7, 2021
The post was met with some criticism and mockery from both apparent Trump supporters and general users curious about a deodorant marketer touching on such a divisive topic.