Talking about Trump: What consumers want to hear and not hear

"When brands or CEOs speak about Trump, whether in a positive or negative light, it’s far more likely to create backlash on one side than goodwill on the other."

Last Tuesday night, Trump dined with senior business leaders, many who have sizeable investments and business objectives in China. Many of the attendees of the dinner were once part of presidential business advisory councils that disbanded last year.

If you did not see many pictures or news reports about this event, that was the point. Polling suggests that it is a good strategy as there is little consumer upside to mention Trump by name.

According to a survey produced Morning Consult, the analysis found that when brands or CEOs speak about Trump, whether in a positive or negative light, it’s far more likely to create more backlash on one side than goodwill on the other.

The Washington Post reports: "The report found that when companies say something negative about Trump, 55 percent of Trump voters were much less likely to have a favorable view of the brand, while just 32 percent of Clinton voters have a more favorable opinion. Making a positive statement about Trump was about as likely to aggravate Clinton voters, with 56 percent saying they’d be much less likely to have a favorable view.”

“No matter the position you take on Trump -- whether you oppose or support him, whatever -- you’ll appease one person but alienate two others,” said Jeff Cartwright, managing director of marketing and communications for Morning Consult. “Why we’re talking about this so much is Trump is so different from any other president we’ve had before -- it’s just created this incredible challenge for companies and brand leaders.”

The Morning Consult report shows there is a strong aversion for corporate activism among the public. Sixty percent of the national sample of 2,200 adults said corporations generally should not get involved in political or cultural matters, compared with just 22 percent who said they should use their influence. 

A Weber Shandwick report found that -- when asked a different way -- consumers did want to see a CEO "speak out when their company’s values are violated or threatened,” with 81 percent of women and 74 percent of men agreeing with that statement.

Such divergent analysis will put CEOs in a bind if they fail to recognize the difference between politics and values.

Consumers don’t like companies to get political, but they do want them to stand up for their “values” -- attributes like diversity and sustainability that companies increasingly tout, particularly when trying to attract new employees.

This recent polling matches earlier analysis from Edelman.

Released in January, the Edelman Trust Barometer found consumers expect business to lead.

64 percent of the participants in the trust survey believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose it.

How CEOs and brands navigate the waters of globalization and politics will shape the business news reporting for the foreseeable future.