Brands “Stay Woke” By Courageously Cutting Ties With The NRA

Some major brands have unwittingly stepped into the crosshairs of the U.S. gun control debate following the latest school shooting tragedy in Parkland, FL, the 18th school-related shooting in the U.S. this year according to Everytown.Org, a gun-control advocacy group.  I realize that this statistic has been contested but I’m not going to bother parsing the definition around what constitutes a school-related shooting when common sense would suggest that even one shooting is one too many and our country has seen far too many mass shootings in recent years.

A recent Quinnipiac poll  found that two-thirds of American voters support stricter gun laws, the highest level in the history of the poll. Yet Congress has yet to act on any new gun-control measures since Sandy Hook. But in the aftermath of Parkland more than a dozen major companies including United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Hertz, MetLife and TrueCar announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), ending their perks and discounts for the NRA members. Those perks can be found here.

Until now, it was very rare for brands like these to been seen as taking a stance or a position on a social issue, especially gun-control. So what’s changed and what’s in store for brands like FedEx and Amazon who choose to stay the course and not distance themselves from business dealings with the NRA? I was asked that very question in a story that ran in today’s USA Today.

Even though my column is not really about gun control or gun rights, I fully expect to be trolled by zealots on both sides of the debate. I don’t care.

Regardless of your stance, it’s important that as marketers we realize what it means to “stay woke” – teen slang for being socially aware. The teens from Parkland, now leading thousands of teens and reverse role-modeling for us adults around the country, are more socially aware and activated than the generations before them. Their activism is real. It will likely result in meaningful changes in legislation and also how brands legislate themselves, placing values at the forefront of business decisions like never before.

 People don’t just buy good products, they buy from good companies and from companies that do good. Doing good is no longer reserved for social entrepreneurs like Tom’s or Patagonia — its finally hitting the mainstream. Unfortunately, tragedies like Parkland and #metoo movements have had to serve as a catalyst for mainstream brands to re-center themselves on social good.

The rapidity with which we are seeing brands react to sexual misconduct in the workplace or distance themselves from polarizing issues like #boycottNRA is unprecedented.  Some would argue that these companies are now reacting too quickly with a disregard for due process.

I think its important to remember that reputation management is not really about due process. It’s about being dutiful to your company’s ethics, values and morals and I applaud these brands for having the courage and conviction to sever ties with the NRA.

Starkey, a hearing aid manufacturer that announced its separation from the NRA on Twitter, said it best, “our focus remains on bringing better hearing to people around the world.”

I am not sure the double entendre was intentional, but by helping us hear better, maybe they are helping us become a little less tone deaf, too.

This article originally appeared on Forbes CMO Network on February 27, 2018.