Rules of engagement: Should brand ambassadors take a political stand? 

While some experts say celebrities can voice their opinion on social & political issues, others believe brands can go for a clause in agreements about taking a political or ideological position   

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Jan 28, 2020 8:41 AM

In the highly charged political times that we live in, it seems neutrality is the least preferred. This could be the reason why we see icons from the sporting world and the movie industry speaking up for or against political issues.

But can taking a stand in political matters backfire or are brands ready to take the risk? Deepika Padukone was seen recently at Jawaharlal Nehru University protests and this rattled many in the endorsement business. According to some industry experts, the actor’s stand poses danger to brands that may like to stay politically neutral.

The question that popped up in many boardrooms was: Should brand ambassadors take a political stand? 

We tried to probe this question and spoke to some sponsors and brand experts. Here’s what they had to say.

According to Sushil Matey, Director, Marketing, Livpure & CEO, Livpure SmartHomes, "Yes, they should. At the end, they are evolved individuals and judicious enough to take a stand when they feel they must. Going forward, brands can insist on a clause in the agreement allowing or refraining brand ambassadors from taking a political or ideological position. Resolution at the beginning can avoid a potential conflict later and brand ambassadors will also be aware of their position.”

Gopa Kumar, COO, Isobar, believes that while it’s a tricky issue it should be left to the celebrity to decide if one wants to speak up or not. “Since celebrities are under intense public scrutiny, whether they choose to take a stand or not should be weighed accordingly. But in the end, it should be left to them. In the age of authentic voice and authenticity among brands, I don’t think taking a stand in a political issue can have an adverse impact on the brand they represent. I feel the positives are more. However, one needs to be careful not to hurt sentiments of the audiences,” Kumar stated. 

Many experts feel it’s not fair for brands to react adversely to their ambassadors’ political opinions. Even if their ambassador has an opinion that counters the opinion of the ruling dispensation, brands should not downsize their engagement with the celebrity as in the long run it might harm the brands more than benefitting in any way.

Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner, Bang in the Middle, believes brands must stand by their ambassadors irrespective of their political stand.

“Both brands and ambassadors are commercial entities and that is the only aperture by which consumers see them. It really doesn’t happen in real life that consumers will boycott a brand. They don’t do so even when an odd film fails or they don’t score in a match. As a brand, once the commitment has been made, standing by the ambassador helps the brand tremendously. Consumers like the brands to have a point of view and often a consistent point of view goes a long way in building trust.”

 According to Prasad Shejale, Founder and CEO, Logicserve Digital, fans are enthusiastic to know about their favourite celebs, what happens in their lives, their views on matters of the moment as well as political concerns. This is also a way for the celebs to showcase their authenticity that can, at times, call for trouble.

“I feel there isn’t much choice left for celebrities as otherwise they will be considered fake and superficial. Brands need to accept this reality and appraise all the aspects including a celebrity’s political views. They can then take a call on choosing ambassadors who aptly represent the brand while being able to be vocal about their opinions on a myriad of topics in the public."

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