Brands have been dealing with increasing polarization across the U.S. for years.
But this week’s leaked news that the Supreme Court has written a draft opinion that it will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade is sparking another wave of political upheaval that will leave marketers precariously straddling red and blue states operating in increasingly different political and cultural realities.
As marketers have spent time honing their purposes and crafting raisons d'être that connect with (mostly liberal) consumer values and viewpoints, half of the country — and much of the government — has drifted away from the center toward an increasingly conservative perspective.
Now, the country’s most sacred and (supposedly) nonpartisan institution has stated its intent to codify some of those viewpoints into law. Abortion restriction is no longer a rhetorical debate, but a soon-to-be political reality. This changes things immensely for American people — and therefore, for brands.
Only a small handful of topics — race, sexual orientation, religion and immigration among them — have the power to touch on the nerve of the U.S. psyche like abortion does. And now that women across the majority of the country (26 states, to be exact) could be stripped of their fundamental right to choose, the debate will be loud, long and furious.
Marketers have the obvious and immediate dilemma of how and when to respond (staying silent is not an option).
Some brands have already shown their intent to fight for women. When Texas passed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, Match Group and Yelp, among others, offered assistance to employees located there seeking abortion access out of state.
The copious number of brands that have rallied behind empowering women or supporting their mental and physical health must have a strategy in place to not just respond to abortion restriction, but plans to support employees seeking access to care. This is especially critical amid the Great Resignation and in a market where employees have negotiating leverage.
The rupture that overturning Roe will cause in American society will change the political trajectory of the nation — and therefore, the context and environment that influences and informs consumer choices. It will also change employee expectations around how companies take care of talent and protect their rights as not just workers, but humans.
But brands also have to acknowledge the reality that speaking out too loudly is a risk as well. Look no further than what happened to Disney in Florida after it denounced the state’s Don’t Say Gay bill. As the country fractures, it becomes more and more difficult for bands to appease everyone.
As brands navigate this political thunderstorm, they’re going to be speaking to two divided Americas, instead of one United States.
To some extent, this has already been our reality. But with Roe’s fate in the balance, a shadow has now been cast across other rights, policies and institutions that Americans take for granted. Where I live, it's shaken the collective psyche of women and families who never questioned their right to choose.
We’re just at the start of this dramatic shift in American policy and the implications of this monumental decision will have ripple effects for months to come.
But what’s for sure is that for major brands and companies, the balancing act is only getting tougher.