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Kiss my political buns

These days, businesses are good at sharing polarizing opinions ... but is sharing polarizing opinions good for business?

Malena Lott December 4th, 2013

When ordering a burger, a side dish of politics may be served free of charge. In Oklahoma, that typically means dishing out conservative opinions blaming Obamacare and/ or President Barack Obama for, well, fill in the blank. But is it a bad marketing strategy or a good way to make the cash register ring?

Mike Laham, Mike's Hamburgers
Photo: Mark Hancock

On the national front, Chick-fil-A and Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby got their conservative feathers ruffled when it came to social issues that opposed their owners’ personal views: same-sex marriage and birth control, respectively. In both cases, the controversies stirred up sales and customer support. Yet what happens when the political firebrand is a small, private business and not a big, corporate brand?

Cordell Johnson, an adjunct marketing and public relations professor at Oklahoma City Community College, tells his students, “In business, there is no right or wrong, good or bad — only what you choose to do. The market will always tell you [if] you suck.”

How do you know when to crow? Knowing your market is a key to success, and making a conservative marketing message in a predominately conservative state isn’t exactly going out on a limb business-wise right now, said Johnson.

“These businesses have every right to choose this strategy, and I have no doubt it is a successful move,” he said. “Politically touchy comments and marketing messages can and do garner support from agreeing customers, but businesses also need to cautiously look ahead in what is a constantly dynamic and fickle marketplace.”

For small businesses, it may not be so much a conscious marketing choice as it is simply venting frustrations. The historic Meers Store & Restaurant in Meers, long known for its popular Meersburger, recently posted on its tables a lengthy reason for the burgers’ increase in cost — namely, its bun manufacturer’s compliance with Obamacare. The page-long explanation appeared under the heading “The World Is Changing!” Clearly, businesses raise prices all the time without the need for explanation or the-sky-is-falling credos, so why do it?

Brian Winkeler, owner of the local advertising firm Robot House Creative, said, “While private businesses definitely have the right to promote whatever religion or political beliefs the owners follow, I don’t find it to be particularly appropriate or professional. I believe that businesses should definitely focus their message on their target audience. Anything out there that risks making a potential customer feel unwelcome strikes me as foolish and shortsighted.”

In other words, talk about your big, delicious burger, not your gripe with the government.

Little controversy 

Another recent Obama-related brouhaha happened at Little Mike’s Hamburgers, 6724 Northwest Expressway, where the restaurant routinely uses its walls to promote its owner’s right-wing views, including political cartoons that offended some patrons to the point that the place earned a visit from the U.S. Secret Service.

The owner, Michael Laham, shared the story with fans on Little Mike’s Facebook page, which brings another element to political opinions: social media.

Winkeler suggests business owners do what he does himself: Have a personal account to share personal views and a professional account that ignores the political. Beware that even retweets and shares can be construed as support of that message.

Businesses often must utilize social media as their mouthpiece when stories break — to defend or explain — such as what happened at Grandad’s Bar, 317 NW 23rd St., in April after Jim Roth, Oklahoma County’s first openly gay elected official, was attacked by three men who had made anti-gay slurs earlier inside the bar.

Greg Seal, co-owner of Grandad’s, ran an ad after the incident that condemned the ugly behavior: “Hate is not on tap at Grandad’s.” The ad went viral, and the story got more attention than it would have if the ad had not been placed, but it did give the business an opportunity to share its tolerance policy.

Edmond resident J.D. Shaklee said he finds businesses who share political views to be a turnoff.

“In a state that is so predominantly right, I am suspicious of those that advertise views. Example: What harm could it do to bash this president when this state voted, more than any other, against him in the last election? You’re playing the odds — pandering, maybe.”

As a consumer, Winkeler says if a business states its agenda, he exercises his right to visit or not visit the establishment. What we are drawn to or repelled by is a primitive “flight or fight” function; marketers, proceed with caution.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”

Pass the ketchup.

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