April was a month of controversy for some brands, and it came thanks to some conservative backlash to influencer partnerships.
Brands are no strangers to backlash from the public — there are whole teams that manage communities on social media, and who are trained to respond to crises.
They are often met with a seemingly endless stream of opinions about the individuals they choose to partner with, and this has the ability to quickly bring about negative attention. Nike experienced exactly this after their Instagram partnership with content creator Dylan Mulvaney caused controversy due to her being transgender.
Before we analyze it further, we want to reinforce that our monthly brand coverage rankings are determined by looking at a rolling list of the Fortune 100 companies in order to understand their levels of media and public interest for any given month, and then we spot trends within those companies and industries. That means that Bud Light and AB-Inbev’s experience, which were similar to Nike’s, are beyond the scope of this blog and as such will not be covered here.
Mulvaney announced her partnership with Nike just days after her video partnership with Bud Light was met with criticism from conservative publishers. Social media users also stirred the pot by calling to boycott the beer brand for working with a transgender influencer.
Nike was easily the most engaged brand from the Fortune 100 coverage in April, accounting for 28 of the top 250 brand stories. It was also clear that the strongest narrative to emerge from those articles was Mulvaney’s Instagram partnership and the discord it was creating.
The most engaged story mentioning Nike was about Megyn Kelly “slamming” the brand’s partnership with Mulvaney on her podcast, which saw over 51k engagements. TMZ and Breitbart also earned notable engagement for their articles about Caitlyn Jenner being “outraged” by the partnership and claiming that companies are becoming too woke. Together the two articles earned 48.6k engagements.
The articles with the most public interest were predominantly from conservative publications, and this was still true even when we looked beyond the ones in our rankings. The chart above shows the full scope of media coverage and engagement to the Nike and Dylan Mulvaney partnership. The Washington Examiner, Daily Wire, Breitbart, and Fox News were among the top 10 publishers writing about the matter, with tabloid TMZ also finding itself among the mix.
The partnership was singled out for condemnation by conservative media and that was amplified by that ecosystem, resulting in a significant amount of attention from the public. While reporting was largely absent from mainstream media, the conservative outlets still managed to foment a wave of criticism over Nike’s decision.
Let’s look at what other brands stood out in April.
1. Delta had the most engaged article by making history
Delta is often among our top 250 brand stories due to its employees receiving positive spotlight, and this month the airline had the top article overall with a story about Stephanie Johnson — the woman who became the first black female pilot captain back in 2016.
The story has been shared by several publications in the years following, and resurfaced this month on Reporters At Large. Even through the years it’s retained its ability to resonate with the public, and in April the article saw over 116k engagements.
2. Walmart’s news of closing stories in Chicago makes headlines
Walmart was the second most written about brand in April, with news of the company closing half of its stores in Chicago making its way into the mainstream. This was reported on by publishers such as NBC, The Washington Post, and Fox Business.
Walmart stated that these stores have not been profitable since they first opened, however, there is a new cause for concern over how these neighborhoods will be affected by the loss of a major supermarket during a time of increased food costs in the US.
3. Conservative publishers receive the most attention
This month we saw conservative publishers come out on top in terms of how much engagement they received to their articles. The Daily Wire and Fox News were ranked one and two, with 195k and 160k engagements respectfully.
Both publishers had stories about the Nike and the Dylan Mulvaney partnership, and also covered issues occurring at big retailers including a shopper getting punched in the face at Target, and a customer who was attacked by a dog while shopping in Home Depot.
Brand coverage in April reinforced how individuals can unintentionally cause a controversy for a brand online, and the importance of a brand being able to monitor where those discussions are emerging in order to understand its potential impact.
To learn more about how to monitor the media and public interest in your brand, request a demo here.