What Dick’s Sporting Goods Proved

What Dick’s Sporting Goods Proved

The gun control debate shows brand activism is here to stay via Dick’s Sporting Goods.

In politically turbulent times, many just want to hang out the middle and avoid the raging internet flame wars erupting across every media platform in America. But, it is becoming increasingly impossible to not take a stance on personal platforms and organizational ones. The relatively new world of brand activism is a tricky one for everyone-from mega-brands to little fish. So, how should brands position themselves in ongoing political and civil discourse?

In the wake of the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida brands are speaking out against the gun lobby and calling on Congress to pass gun control legislation. Several huge brands have cut ties with the NRA after ThinkProgress posted a list of companies affiliated with the NRA that went viral.

But no brand made a bigger statement this week on gun control than Dick’s Sporting Goods. They have a new policy against selling weapons to anyone under 21 years old, and a policy against selling any assault rifles. The move is unheard of by a gun retailer, until now. They outlined their new stance in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. The post has already been shared by almost 420 thousand people, with another 130 thousand leaving comments and 430 thousand Facebook reactions. They have also received coverage from every major national news outlet. Most importantly, the post has gone viral with a lot of positive momentum. So, what does this tell us about brand activism?

Company values are actually valuable.

Company values are more than a text box on a static “About us” page. In the “activist economy,” brands have to be value-centered. Every decision, from mergers and acquisitions down to the writing of a single tweet, has to be held up to the brand’s value system.

Consumers are looking for brands to be in lock-step with their publicly acknowledged mission statements and values at all levels of operations. It’s now impossible for brands to fake social consciousness with splashy CSR campaigns or laughably generic pro-happiness messaging (we’re looking at you, Pepsi.). Real action, ethical practice, and clear voice are required.

This also means that company values may need to change. Part of what makes the Dick’s Sporting Goods statement on gun control so compelling is that the company admits to selling weapons in the past they probably shouldn’t have, and introduces a new value system placing safety above Second Amendment freedoms.

Get ready to take some heat.

Engaging in activism is not easy in the slightest, but take comfort in knowing that someone will be mad no matter what. So instead of playing peacekeeper, brands should speak up on issues that matter to them. Being true to brand identity will encourage loyalty, brands shouldn’t be deterred by a few jeers. In the case of Dick’s Sporting Goods, they only took 20 thousand negative reactions, with more than 300 thousand positive reactions on their post.

Issues scanning is more important than ever.

In 2018, brands can’t afford to scan the media environment haphazardly. Digital analysts can’t fall asleep at the wheel, or they’ll wake up to a controversy. Whether it’s a local scandal or a national debate, companies would be wise to keep an eye on emerging issues. Surely, the media teams at Cabela’s (a direct competitor of Dick’s Sporting Goods)  are freaking out. Effective issues scanning will equip brands to take positions that they feel are true to their brand identity, well before their customers ask them to take a side.

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