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U.S. companies intentionally avoiding politics

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With more companies taking distinct political positions, recent declarations by Dunkin’ Donuts and ESPN to eschew politics stand out.

An executive for the global doughnut and coffee chain said Monday at an annual meeting of trademark law professors in Boston, “We are not [S]tarbucks, we aren’t political — we aren’t gonna put stuff on our cups to start conversations,” the Daily Wire reported.

The executive, Drayton Martin, explained further to customers: “We don’t want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in and out of our store in seconds. It’s donuts and ice cream — just be happy.”

Meanwhile, ESPN’s new president, Jimmy Pitaro, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday his sports network is reversing course from the past couple of years in which a fixation on politics has caused ratings to nosedive.

“Without question, our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” he said. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”

Most companies should avoid taking political stances, affirmed Utpal Dholakia, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today piece last year arguing politics alienates employees and customers and shifts attention from primary goals.

Writing in March 2018, he noted that in the previous week alone, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart said they would stop selling guns to anyone under 21. And a dozen other companies, including Delta Airlines, United, Hertz and MetLife, announced various actions such as no longer offering discounts to NRA members.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ Martin was hired in May 2018 as the vice president of brand stewardship.

She’s commissioned, the company said, to lead “the development and implementation of Dunkin’ Donuts’ brand messaging across channels including advertising, packaging, in-store and digital.”

Starbucks not a politics-free zone

The Daily Wire noted Dunkin’ Donuts rival Starbucks has a history of pitting itself against conservatives.

Howard Schultz

When Howard Schultz was executive chairman — he’s now toying with a run for president — he slammed President Trump’s ban on travel from terror-sponsoring nations. In response to Trump’s immigration policies, he later pledged to hire 10,000 refugees within five years.

Starbucks also declared its restaurants “gun-free zones” in 2013. And in response to the Ferguson riots, it launched a campaign giving baristas an option to write “Race Together” on the cups of customers to initiate conversations about race relations. Starbucks later admitted the effort was a mistake.

In 2015, Starbucks’ red cup, eliminating all Christmas-themed ornaments and decorations, stirred controversy.

As for ESPN, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger is happy with Pitaro’s efforts to revive the company, the Times said.

“Appearing at a recent investors conference, Iger credited Pitaro with dialing down the political discourse on ESPN’s debate shows and its signature program ‘SportsCenter,’ as well as lifting ratings.”

“We’ve done some brand research that suggests ESPN’s brand is stronger than it was a few years ago,” Iger said.

‘Customers will simply defect’

In Psychology Today, Dholakia appealed to common sense, noting that when “a large company takes a political stance, it alienates some significant number of these constituents and throws things out of kilter.”

“This is because every large company, whether it is Dick’s Sporting Goods, United Airlines, or Papa John’s Pizza, is sure to have constituents across the political spectrum.”

He wrote that taking a stance “that favors one partisan group upsets and alienates customers, employees, and investors from the other group.”

“The morale of employees plunges leading to lower motivation and effort. Some employees may even leave,” Dholakia said.

“Customers will simply defect and find some other seller if they feel unwelcome.”