A buddy of mine mentioned that he just “unfriended” an AV industry legend last week because the person was celebrating Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment onto the Supreme Court. In a time where the United States are so very divided, this person chose to gloat about something that more than half of Americans are furious about. Let me be clear: that’s not good for business. Not one bit.
It’s not the first time businesses have oddly delved into politics and/or religion. Privately-owned, SoCal-based In-and-Out Burger subtlety promotes their religious beliefs to patrons with prayer messages on their packaging materials, such as a little “John 3:16” on the inside of the bottom of their drinking cups. Granted, a prayer before you eat is harmless, but a recent $25,000 donation to the GOP to back up their right-wing beliefs brings bitter politics into greasy hamburgers in a way that some people will boycott. Simply put: I don’t want my burger joint supporting bigots and hate mongers and I will vote with my economic ballot, as will many others. Same goes for Chick-Fil-A and the likes of Papa John’s. When it comes down to it, there’s a chance that their politics align with your own. But the fact of the matter is that, with such hot-button issues, there are simply many other options for fast food that don’t get needlessly political or religious, and hence don’t piss off anyone.
Alaska Airlines got the message about imposing religion on its travelers when, in 2012, they ended a program that included a “free Psalm” with every meal. Not everyone prays before they eat, and lots of people who do pray to different deities. Respecting those beliefs is good for business. Alienating people? Not so good. Since focusing on being a better airline and not a harbinger, Alaska has had some record profits, bought Virgin America, and invested in a pretty swanky new fleet of planes.
Audio today is a very personal business. In the modern world, an audiophile can call many of the cult-of-personality oriented businesses in the hobby and actually speak with the namesake leader. Said founders attend regional and national audio shows and are often involved on a day-to-day basis with the products that we know and love. By all means, they are allowed to have their beliefs–even when they are out of the mainstream or bordering on extreme. But when said beliefs are made brazenly public, such as on social media, there is a big risk in terms of business. Not one audiophile product is so far above its competition in terms of performance that it can’t be replaced with a suitable other component. Building an association with extreme political views or taking a bold and exclusionary stance on religion can be off-putting to consumers. Blasting those views on Facebook or other social media makes it such that large volumes of the buying public can and will stop listening to you and–more importantly–stop buying your products on principle.
Years and years ago, one of my best clients at Cello needed a new pair of speakers, but literally would not buy the type of speakers that I had at the time because of the strong religious ties that the company made somewhat public. There was no Facebook at the time, but there was enough scuttlebutt about this company that my client, who made $20,000,000 selling his technology company in the late 1990s in San Jose, just respectfully said “find me something else.” He wasn’t angry at all. He just wasn’t writing a check for these speakers under any circumstances and it didn’t matter how good they would sound with his Cello Performance II Class A amps, Cello Encore preamp, Cello Audio Palette EQ, and Meridian digital front end. (It would have sounded great, by the way).
The divisions in the country, especially since the 2016 election, have given birth to the #DeleteFacebook movement. Two of my friends’ wives did in fact quit Facebook this summer, and they have not looked back. My wife rarely uses the social media anymore, as she says, “I prefer to see photos of puppies, kids, food, and vacations” on Instagram versus the often acrimonious dialogue on Facebook. Be it Russian “influencers” or just people who you hoped weren’t that stupid talking smack, more and more people are bailing from places like Facebook because it doesn’t make their life any better. But for audio companies, the older, wealthier demographic on Facebook paired with the group and hobby association make for a great way to build a brand.
In the end, cutting one’s potential client base by more than half isn’t a good business model. Fox News does it. So does MSNBC. And they reach, on a good night, about 2,000,000 polarized people. The Big Bang Theory, at its peak viewership reaches 18,700,000 people. Who do you think gets higher ad rates and makes more money?
So, to audio companies: keep your politics and religion out of the hobby and off of social media, especially in such polarized and polarizing times as these. If you simply must bloviate on Facebook for whatever reason, create a private account that has nothing to do with your business and keep your views there, assuming you have that luxury and your name isn’t so synonymous with your brand that one may as well be the other. That’s assuming, of course, that you care about the potential backlash.
End of sermon.