The election of real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-star Donald Trump to the US presidency sent shockwaves through the United States and beyond. Buoyed by a mix of populist rhetoric that was interpreted as racist and xenophobic by many observers, several companies found themselves unwillingly pitched as a friend or foe of the president. Such is the case of L.L. Bean, which got swept up into the political fray when Linda Bean, a company board member and granddaughter of founder Leon Leonwood Bean, spoke out in support of the president. Trump tweeted in support of Linda Bean and encouraged followers to support the company, which turned the brand into a political lightening rod.
Conversely, L.L. Bean’s competitors have also been getting political: Patagonia and REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) issued statements decrying the president’s reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. This was not the first time REI had taken an activist orientation: in recent years the company has been taking anti-consumerist stands by closing on Black Friday to encourage people to go outdoors.
In this case study, students will be asked to assess the risks and potential rewards of companies getting embroiled in political debates. Further, students will be asked to brainstorm ways to repair a brand image damaged by unexpected political firestorms and weigh the role of investors and board members.