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A Beauty Nation Divided: How Polarized Politics Are Impacting the Industry

Published August 31, 2023
Published August 31, 2023
devn via Unsplash

Beauty is undoubtedly political—from the writings of journalist Darian Symoné Harvin to bold campaigns by Dame, Saie and The Lipstick Lobby—but how are politics potentially affecting beauty? There is undoubtedly a need to address the geographical nuances of the US beauty consumer, with politics being one facet of this. In the lead-up to the first 2024 Presidential Election primary debates, data and analytics firm Engagement Labs decided to dive into the impact of polarized politics on consumer brands with their Brand Marketing Amid Political Polarization report.

The enterprise gathered offline consumer conversation data through weekly surveys for consumers aged 18 to 69 from almost 500 brands, collected via the TotalSocial platform. Offline conversations were specifically chosen as they constitute two-thirds of consumer conversations, according to the company. Analyzed industries ranged from food to fashion, with the beauty and personal care factor only being represented by Kirkland. They found that 23% of the companies are polarized between Democrats and Republicans. Here are further key takeaways from the report:

Republican vs. Democratic Sentiment

  • Coca-Cola, Gucci, and Lay’s Chips had equal sentiment for both political leanings.
  • Kirkland, Olive Garden, and Shein had the highest positive Republican sentiment.
  • DiGiorno, Vanguard, and Meijer had the highest positive Democrat sentiment. 

“Republicans are much more negative than Democrats toward the brands involved with COVID-19 vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna, as well as ‘Obamacare,’ while Republicans are more positive about right-leaning Fox News and Hobby Lobby, which has vocally supported conservative causes,” the report states. However, there were certain brand anomalies where this reasoning can’t be applied, such as the positive sentiment among Republicans for Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Holiday Inn, Jif Peanut Butter, and Swiffer. One could speculate that the family-first values of these enterprises could be a reason.

Recent examples certainly show how important it is to know your audience; amid controversy and backlash due to an online campaign with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, Anheuser-Busch lost a reported $395 million in sales. But the report also provided two case studies that displayed the unpredictable nature of public sentiment. Dick's Sporting Goods, which was caught up in controversy following news that the Parkland school shooter had purchased a shotgun from the retailer, saw a huge dip in positive online sentiment in October 2018, but by the spring of 2023, had actually seen a 400% increase in stock price. Disney, which was criticized as being “woke” and promoting “sexualized content” by Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, nonetheless still maintained a fairly positive net sentiment due to the fact that Democrats account for a majority of its brand conversations.

Evolution of Brand Conversations

  • The total volume of Democratic brand conversations was 10% higher than its Republican counterpart (76.4 conversations per week versus 69.5).
  • Beauty and personal care conversations ranked fairly low for both parties, with 4.2 weekly conversations for Democrats and 3.2 for Republicans. 
  • Food, media, beverages, and apparel had the highest number of conversations per week.
  • Beauty and personal care had the highest net sentiment of any category with a score of 67. 

While beauty conversations may not constitute the biggest chunk of consumer conversations, their positive sentiment across both parties looks promising and indicates a certain political neutrality from the outset. However, no blanket statement can be made across the industry, for some brands have taken stronger political stances than others and are therefore more likely to sway towards one side of the political spectrum than others. The more polarizing the message, the more likely to lose out on opposite-leaning consumers; however, the risk can also be rewarded in increased brand loyalty and social media engagement from politically aligned consumers.

To summarize, Engagement Labs suggested the following four takeaways for marketing strategists:

  • The bigger the brand, the safer it is to remain politically impartial.
  • A variety of factors, such as rationale for engaging with a politically charged issue, as well as political leanings of customers and stakeholders, should be considered before deciding on making a public statement.
  • Pro-active support on controversial issues should only be made after upfront research and analysis, given increasing polarization.
  • It should be kept in mind that social media is likely to overstate the extent of a crisis. Brands should analyze both online and offline sentiment to properly assess the situation.

From Black Lives Matter to abortion rights, beauty and personal care brands have taken a stand for important political causes. Brands such as Thrive Causemetics and UOMA Beauty have social change built into their company DNA and have garnered loyal followings because of it. With 46% of millennials and 42% of Gen Z expecting brands to be active participants in social change, there is a reward for speaking up, but if not correctly gauged with audience temperament, such strategies can also backfire. Given the increasing polarization of audiences and the rise of cancel culture, the stakes are higher than ever—and with it the difficulty of deciding on whether to speak up or stay silent. A guiding North Star will be individual brand DNA and the role that political messaging plays in it.


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