Secret Marketer: Being seen as impartial when politicians are involved can be a tricky business

I was on the London Underground the other day and overheard two Americans commenting about a football game they had seen on the TV the previous afternoon.

“It was Emirates versus Samsung,” said one of them. After wondering for a moment what they were talking about, I realised that they had interpreted the shirt sponsors as the name of the clubs (the game was Arsenal versus Chelsea).

It got me thinking about what it feels like to support a club when a new shirt sponsor comes in, especially if it is a brand that you don’t like. I have made many presentations to my company’s board, talking up the return on investment of a sports sponsorship opportunity. I’ve argued that it will open new doors among the club’s fans, while dismissing any suggestions that we will lose customers as a result of sponsoring a rival team.

Apart from sport, the adage goes that you should avoid talking about religion and politics, in order to avoid heated arguments among otherwise mild-mannered colleagues.

This was certainly true in ‘SM Towers’ this month. A few weeks ago, we were approached by one of the political parties in the run up to the general election. It was put to us that one of its leading politicians would like to visit our office, meet employees and make a speech in front of the TV cameras.

The proposal was that this would be good advertising for our brand and would give us a platform to talk about our brand’s role in the UK economy. Although there was some nervousness about retaining our apolitical stance – would viewers interpret this as an endorsement for the party – we decided that on balance getting our brand on broadcast news for zero cost was too good an opportunity to miss.

All went to plan and there were no accusations either way. That was until some of our employees got home that night. The following day my inbox was full of emails from disgruntled staff, who felt it was a disgrace that this politician had visited our premises.

They ignored the brand coverage, dismissed the steps that we had taken to remain impartial and overlooked the prestige of such a senior politician wanting to spend time with our business. Ah well. I wonder when the Pope is next in town.

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