Should Wineries Get Vocal About Their Politics?

resistanceThe winery chose to be very vocal about their opposition to President Trump’s immigration policy, going so far as to put a “Resistance” symbol on their label, being vocal in the media about their opposition, and announcing their opposition to the President’s various policies on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They took a principled stand.

The upshot was that they lost the support of a small number of important customers located in Texas, Florida, Missouri and Georgia who, together, purchased over $120,000 in wine in 2016 and had a lifetime value of more than $320,000. The loss of future value is of course unknown, but it couldn’t be small.

The monetary support for their brand that resulted from mixing their politics with their business was but a small fraction of the monetary support they lost.

Did the winery do the right thing?

The only way to answer this question definitively is by looking at it purely in terms of dollars and cents. But if that dollars and cents equation mattered to the winery, they would not have taken the public stand in the first place.

For quite some time the vast majority of businesses stayed away from getting involved in politics. This changed in the past decade. You saw the change most prominently on the issue of LGBTQ rights, where hundreds of companies signed an amicus brief supporting same-sex marriage and many more came out publicly in favor of full marriage rights. You are going to see this trend of businesses being vocal about their politics continue.

But the legitimate question is still, is it a good idea?

One thing to take note of is that almost no businesses ever get too far out ahead of an issue. You didn’t see many companies publicly campaigning for LGBTQ rights more than a decade ago. The reason they don’t is that the downside is simply too great. And if any company was in the vanguard of an issue, it is usually quietly, either through campaign donations or charitable donations, but nothing loud.

This is almost always smart. 

By all measures, it appears that the next four years, at least, will be politically polarizing and both the temptation and the pressure to speak out as a company will be strong. My advice to clients will be to consider the consequences carefully before embarking on even a modest effort to weigh in. My advice will be to consider if the good you think you can do by weighing in on one side or another of an issue through your company’s brand voice can’t also be achieved by taking actions through a private voice or through private action. 

While it is entirely possibly for your company to grow and succeed through the devoted support of a small minority of the consumers who might otherwise be willing to support your brand had they not been turned off by your company’s activism, it’s even more likely that your company will grow and succeed by attracting the support of a larger group of consumers who aren’t forced to choose another over you.

Of course, then, there is the principle. 


8 Responses

  1. Suzanne Becker Bronk - February 6, 2017

    Hi Tom,
    These are not normal times and many people are voting with their pocketbook. There may be an enormous upside to this wine brand’s choice of label and stance.

    Think Uber, Nordstrom, Amazon, shoes.com etc. etc.

    Best,
    Suzanne

  2. Matt Zinkl - February 6, 2017

    Hi Tom,

    Been mulling this issue over quite a bit, and while I applaud companies that take a principled stand on social issues in the name of more freedom, more equality and inclusion, I wonder if these companies also consider the unintended consequences when they do this?

    By “unintended” I mean the type of folks that might support for example, gay marriage, but generally dislike politics and prefer to stay away? I see it on my FB feed all the time, I know these folks are like minded, but simply do not “do” politics. How many of these folks are being turned off by a company making their politics public and will this make be a significant monetary impact? Just some thoughts.

    Love your blog!

  3. Tom Wark - February 6, 2017

    Matt:

    Thank you for reading. Yes, there certainly could be unintended consequences. In the end, though it might seem like a personal decision, it’s a business decision. I tried to lay out the potential consequences.

    Tom…

    • Matt Zinkl - February 6, 2017

      Tom, my comment was not intended as a critique at all. It just strikes me as odd that anyone could be apolitical or, even weirder, make a conscience decision to turn politics off during these times, but they’re out there!

  4. Conor - February 8, 2017

    Does the politics ever end? People of all political stripes love wine. Perhaps we can leave one industry alone. I’d prefer to not know the affiliations of a winery.

  5. William - February 8, 2017

    Without knowing the winery, but guessing that it is under 10,000 cases and needs to sell 50 – 70% DTC, why would you insert politics into your product knowing that a large number of your consumers don’t agree with you or to Conor’s point would like their wine to be a politics-free zone. The DTC buyer has a lot of great wine choices and is generally educated about them given the price points. Don’t give them a reason to choose the next winery.

    In response to Matt, I didn’t vote for Trump and think the immigration order is just another example of the goat-f&@k clown rodeo going on in DC right now, but I don’t think I am the only person (I have Conor at least!) who does not want their wine choice be a political decision. I really don’t care about the political positions of winery owners and don’t need them to educate me about the issues. You may like that they validate your own political choices and that’s fine if it makes you like the winery more and you should double your purchases to make up for the losses.
    I just don’t need it politics in my pleasure/leisure pursuits; almost makes me want to go back to having some “cool kids” lecture me about what a loser I am for not being 110% into natural wines…….

    • Matt Zinkl - February 8, 2017

      I hear you William, and I can understand where you come from, I choose differently. You and Conor both make my main point, which is the unintended consequences of a winery making their politics public, so thanks!

  6. Mark - February 20, 2017

    I think you and most of the respondees have this issue completely upside down. The principled stand is to observe the rule of law.

    Illegal immigration only serves to enrich unscrupulus grape growers and wineries that exploit immigrants by low pay, detestable living conditions, and even wage theft. No wonder so many in agriculture support resistance to any change in immigration policy … it will hurt their bottom line and expose their criminal activity.

    The principled stance is to work to change immigration law so that migrants can easily come to this country and enjoy all of the protections it can afford. This is the ONLY principled way.


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