Brand Managers Beware of Political Tribalism

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published May 18, 2021

Brand tribalism has become so intense it can peril products that lean then “wrong” way, according to a survey done by, a website that offers coupons and promotional savings at nationally recognized merchant sites and stores.

The survey asked more than 1,000 U.S. adults about how companies’ political and cultural statements impact their purchasing decisions, including policies on COVID-19. The survey also explored how other experiences with companies’ impact purchase decisions.

Brand managers need to be aware of how political tribalism can affect them

Among the Key Findings:

  • In 2020, 1 in 4 American shoppers (over 50 million) stopped purchasing from a brand due to their support of a presidential candidate.
  • More than 1 in 3 American shoppers (over 65 million) stopped purchasing from a brand in the last year due to COVID-19 policies, poor customer service and/or mistreatment of employees. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans stopped purchasing due to “controversial comments.”
  • Large percentages of consumers say brand politics will influence their decisions in the future. 47% of people said they’re more likely to spend money on brands whose politics align with their own.
  • 50% of Americans are more likely to boycott a brand due to their political positions than they were just one year ago.

While the presidential race was the key event, the survey probed why consumers stopped shopping with a brand during the last 12 months. While one might expect customer service to be at the top of the list, service turned out to be essentially equal to lenient COVID-19 policies and mistreatment of workers. Strict COVID-19 policies, controversial statements by businesses and refusal to comment on controversial issues all impacted purchase behaviors for 10% to 25% of American shoppers.

A key question asked on an aided-recall basis was: “Which of the following behaviors have caused you to stop shopping with a company over the past year?”  Here are the results:

  • Poor customer service – 38%
  • Lenient COVID-19 health policies – 37%
  • Mistreatment of employees – 37%
  • Comments on controversial issues I disagree with – 23%
  • Strict COVID-19 health policies – 21%
  • Religious or political affiliation I disagree with – 20%
  • Unsustainable business practices – 14%
  • Refusal to comment on controversial issues – 12%
  • Charity/philanthropic efforts I disagree with – 12%
  • Other – 1%
  • None of the above – 19%

In terms of political party, if policies were too lenient, 46% of Democrats were turned off while 28% of Republicans were turned off. If too strict, 21% of Democrats were turned off while 31% of Republicans were turned off.

Goya Foods, a Latin food brand, is an example of a family-owned company caught in the tribal buzz saw. Goya’s’ CEO Robert Unanue raised a ruckus in the Latino community when he called President Donald Trump a “blessed leader.”

His comments caused an immediate boycott by numerous customers because of the administration’s family separation policy at the southern border as well as Trump’s policy with the “dreamers.”

According to Apex Marketing, $10 million of Goya’s exposure was positive, $47 million was negative and $35 million was neutral. Being too red or too blue can indeed by perilous.

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.