Actually, That Absurd Axe Tweet Is Important

Trump has finally pushed companies to pick a side

Rob Walker
Published in
3 min readJan 8, 2021


Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

When Axe, the bro-body spray brand, feels compelled to speak up on behalf of the democratic process, you know something singular has happened.

In the aftermath of the shocking mob attack on the U.S. Capitol building, a slew of brands and business leaders made an unusual show of condemning or distancing themselves from President Donald Trump. Given the facts — the president’s role in encouraging the mob, and telling its members “we love you” even as the deadly chaos was indisputable — this was not a tough call, and in some cases seemed a bit belated and obligatory.

But even so, this could (should) prove to be an important and lasting turning point for business having a perspective that goes beyond the bottom line. I argued back in 2019 that smart businesses were transcending the traditional “just stay neutral” stance toward social policy and politics. This week demonstrated that neutrality is simply no longer an option.

Sometimes that new reality took forms that could seem surprising or even bizarre. Like Axe, responding to a semi-viral social media image of a can of its body spray left in the post-riot rubble, tweeting, “We believe in the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power.”

Then again, just a year or two ago it might have seemed jarring that even a self-consciously progressive brand like Ben & Jerry’s would unleash a searing twitter thread declaring the mob action “a riot to uphold white supremacy.” But this wasn’t jarring, because Ben & Jerry’s established its moral clarity with its fearless reaction to the George Floyd protests this summer. At the time, that stance might have seemed like an exemplary outlier; now, it simply looks prescient.

As Andrew Ross Sorkin detailed in DealBook this week, the Trump-endorsed mob attack called the bluff of many business-leader “enablers” who tolerated the president’s damaging…