The 2020 campaign trail can be a tough place to be a brand, with many of the Democratic candidates taking aim at what they see as inappropriate business practices. We looked at the data to see what’s resonating.

Given the broadness of the race, we decided to take a look at any time a Democratic presidential candidate has been mentioned in the context of a major brand so far this year. Our search includes all Fortune 100 businesses, as well as a few other large companies. 

We looked at all of the Democratic presidential candidates, since the campaign trail has already begun in earnest for them, while this is not necessarily true on the Republican side. Some began as early as the beginning of this year, and Elizabeth Warren even declared her intention to run in December of 2018. 

As such, we examined engagements to web and Facebook content that mentioned both a challenger for the presidency and a brand from January 1st until July 31st of this year. This analysis does not include statements made by or coverage of President Trump, unless in the context of a Democratic challenger, simply for purposes of length and avoiding confusion. That is a matter we will return to at a later date, however.

So, which brands were the most talked about by the candidates, and what drove engagement?

The most engaged web articles about candidates and businesses

Though going into this, we were looking for the candidates being critical of businesses and how those statements were engaged, the top article shows that it can be a two way street in this context, with business owners and CEOs also having their say on the candidates. 

The top article came from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus calling Bernie Sanders ‘the enemy of every entrepreneur’, which Fox Business wrote up. This article drove more than 300,000 engagements, more than double that of any other piece of web content in this search. 

Beyond criticism of companies from the candidates themselves, which we will come to, the act of candidates taking money from the executives of big corporations such as Comcast and Blue Cross was also a subject that resonated. Biden, Harris, and Buttigieg were all highlighted as having taken big money donations from bank executives, while Biden was specifically called out for his ‘big-money fundraiser’ with execs from the aforementioned companies.  

The vast majority of the articles, though, were more some form of criticism of companies themselves, or an examination of what the candidates would want them to do differently should they be elected. 
So, which businesses were the most talked about in the top hundred stories? 

The most talked about businesses 

Of the top hundred most engaged articles we looked at on the web for this study, Big Tech was the most talked about. 

Amazon appeared in twenty of the top hundred articles, while Facebook and Google appeared in seventeen and twelve respectively. 

Other companies were written about at a lesser rate, and often lumped together to talk more generally about finance or healthcare, without necessarily being called out by name, at least in the headline of the article.

As the chart shows, Wall Street and healthcare companies are often written about more broadly, though Pfizer and UnitedHealth were mentioned by name among the most engaged companies.
Though tech was the most often written about among the top stories, it did not necessarily drive the most engagement. Amazon did see high numbers both in terms of being written about and the engagements driven by those articles, but this had a lot to do with the failed expansion into New York City after criticism from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, a position blasted by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, now a presidential candidate. 

Beyond Amazon and the aforementioned Home Depot, whose engagements were principally driven by the Fox Business article, it’s Walmart that has seen the most engagement, mainly driven by Bernie Sanders consistently hitting them with criticism about workers’ rights and pay.

Given Senator Sanders’ principal role in pushing that point, let’s take a look at the candidates who most often drove the conversation around companies. 

Sanders & Warren drive the conversation

The vast majority of highly engaged articles where politicians talked critically about companies mentioned either Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or both. 

Each of them featured in 32 of the top 100 articles, while nobody else other than Bill de Blasio entered double figures.

It is important to note that, as mentioned, a lot of de Blasio’s mentions by this metric came from him criticizing the Ocasio-Cortez position on Amazon expanding into New York. 

Six of the seven articles that mentioned Biden were about him taking money from executives, and only one mentioned his criticism of Amazon paying no federal income tax. 

Many of the most engaged articles mentioning Elizabeth Warren were about her desire to break up tech giants such as Google and Facebook, or jail executives who flout the rules. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, tended to focus on how much tax big companies pay, or calling for higher wages for workers, and highlighting income inequality.

Unsurprisingly, the latter two were considerably ahead in terms of engagement to any other candidate, with Bernie Sanders topping a million and Elizabeth Warren garnering over 600,000 engagements in earned media on the subject. 

Much of this attention comes from Bernie’s own Facebook Page, so it’s worth looking at the top Facebook posts.

Facebook posts talking about candidates and businesses

Five of the top ten Facebook posts concerning this topic came from Bernie Sanders himself. 

This included mentions of Amazon, IBM, and Sears, from a tax and income inequality point of view. He also promoted the Prime Day strike that was a central focus of social media coverage of the day this July

Beyond Bernie’s posts themselves, Bernie Marcus’ opinion of him appeared twice in the list, while there were also posts about Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up big tech, and Bill de Blasio’s critique of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the Amazon NYC deal. 

With a long way to go in the campaign, it’s obvious that criticism of certain companies and their business practices is a rhetorical device successfully adopted by a number of candidates, but particularly Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It’s a long road to 2020, and there’s likely plenty more of this to come. 

If you want to track these kinds of developments yourself, take a tour of NewsWhip Spike.

Benedict Nicholson

Benedict Nicholson is the Managing Editor at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.

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