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The Koch Brothers Want to Hit the ‘Reset’ Button

If you follow politics and consider your partisan orientation to be somewhere near or left of the “center”, then you may know Charles and David Koch as right-wing bogeymen allergic to the words “regulation” and “government.”

As with most things in politics, the story is a bit more complicated than that–and the brothers want you to know that their energy and consumer goods company Koch Industries is not the mythical bad guy. In fact, they’re all about Americans, values and the things Americans value.

To that point, today Koch launched an ad campaign titled “From the Heart”:

Why are we interested in this story, beyond the obvious political angle? It’s a classic example of a company trying to repair its image via a “refresh” or reintroduction to the public.

This is not a new endeavor for the brothers, who have long sponsored arts organizations and charities as well as hard right/libertarian political candidates.

David Koch, for example, has publicly stated his support for marriage equality; the David H. Koch theater hosts both the New York City Opera and Ballet.

Yet, while the ad above aims to separate the brand from party politics, it’s part of a campaign in which the company’s owners have taken pains to restate their very specific ideologies. Back in April, brother Charles posted a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that his company’s primary concern is promoting a freer, more open society while berating his political opponents as “collectivists”–a term you almost certainly won’t encounter anywhere outside a partisan platform:

“Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness.”

This is a two-pronged campaign, and its message is “Koch Industries is more about the people it employs and the products it creates than its owners’ political donations”; company comms director Steve Lombardo tells AdAge that one goal is to make the Koch name more attractive to potential employees.

At the same time, the company’s owners will defend their politics with vigor when they feel it necessary–and since the 2016 presidential campaign unofficially began this week with Hillary Clinton’s book launch, they will be playing both offense and defense for the next two-plus years and beyond.

Frankly, we feel that the company’s name is too closely tied to its owners and their donations for this ad to move the needle of public perception; the fact that they “reached out to multiple agencies” but ended up making the ad in-house speaks to an inability to separate any outspoken business owner’s advocacy efforts from the business itself–for better or worse.

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