As the 2016 election winds down to the final stretch, the uncertainty of who will win leaves many consumers hesitant to spend. With one month left, retailers and CPG brands are being cautious as any slip up can lead to controversy. While most have tried to stay out of the political arena, others have found ways to use the election to their advantage and help address voter issues.
1. Turning a Slump into Opportunity
Retailers and brands have grown to expect a sales slump during election season, while holiday spending tends to bounce back after the votes are counted. According to CNBC, year-over-year sales growth in the 2004 and 2012 presidential cycles declined by an average of 22% two months before votes were cast and eventually rose back in November by 16%.
Others have accepted the season as a time to make quick wins with niche election promotions. Following the success of previous elections, 7-11 continues their presidential coffee cup promotion allowing customers to show support for their candidate by purchasing either a red or blue cup. This year they added a new option, a neutral purple cup for customers to write in their own issues or candidate. Yet, in an interesting twist of fate, the neutral purple cups have outsold those for the major party candidates.
2. Controversy Tests Brand Response
While most try to stay clear of political controversy, it is hard to avoid once you are pulled in, and how they respond is just an important test of brand’s response . Last month, Skittles was unwillingly used as an analogy for an argument against refugees. While the original post drew heavy debate, consumers waited for a rebuttal from Skittles to address the comparison. In a few hours, they provided a simple response that was praised by fans – "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people." Rather than get dragged into a muddy debate they acknowledged that the analogy was inappropriate and asked that candidates limit anything that can be misinterpreted as marketing. They left behind a simple lesson for other brands to learn from — resist the temptation to promote your products at the expense of others. Impacts to their sales have yet to be shown, but they may have gained more support from new and loyal fans.
3. Reminding Millennial Voters their Voice Matters
Rather than shy away from the election, Doritos took a different route this season by addressing poor voter registration turnout among Millennials. Partnering with Rock the Vote and making use of custom vending machines, Doritos has provided a touchpoint to show unregistered voters that if they don’t make a choice it will be made for them. When an unregistered voter attempts to obtain a bag of chips from the vending machine, they will instead receive a bag of "No Choice" Doritos along with a prompt to register at the point of purchase. Taking a stand to address voter turnout gives enables the brand to both add value to the election while helping increase sales.
Regardless of which candidate becomes the next President, consumer spending will likely rebound before the holidays. For most, the election cycle will have been a missed opportunity, and for others a chance to capitalize on quick success. We will have to wait another four years to see what retailers and brands have learned, but with one month left it is still anyone’s game to win or lose.