Ken Frazier's strong words gave his company a big word-of-mouth bump.
Merck chief executive Ken Frazier set off a parade of departures from Donald Trump’s CEO-packed jobs councils—and Trump’s subsequent decision to disband those groups before even more business leaders could leave them—following the President’s widely criticized response to white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia in mid-August blaming “many sides” for the violence. And the defiant stance actually may have boosted the drug maker’s image at a time when Americans are skeptical about the pharmaceutical industry over high drug prices.
Merck experienced significant increases in positive consumer perception in the days following Frazier’s resignation from Trump’s manufacturing council over what he called a matter of “personal conscience,” according YouGov BrandIndex, a firm that tracks public opinions about brands. That’s despite the President’s critical reaction to Frazier leaving. (Trump used Twitter to pounce on the chief executive by calling on him to use his free time to work on lowering drug prices.)
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In the days since, Merck experienced boosts in both positive “buzz” and general “word of mouth” as defined by YouGov BrandIndex (i.e., what people had heard about the company through the media or from friends and family, and whether they’d spoken about the company at all).
From the day after Frazier’s resignation (Aug. 15) through the following Saturday (Aug. 19), word of mouth about Merck sharply rose “from 2% of U.S. adults having spoken about the drug brand with family or friends, to 5%,” according to YouGov BrandIndex’s interviews of more than 1,400 adults.
That may not sound like much. But it’s significant considering that, unlike other major American CEOs who have spoken out about Trump’s approach immigration and racial policies, Frazier’s response was aggressive and he’s not necessarily as well known by the general public.
“We focused on Merck because they received the biggest notoriety when their CEO quit the committee first. He was also the specific subject of Trump’s harsh tweet when it happened (unlike the others),” a spokesperson for YouGov BrandIndex told Fortune in an email. “This situation last week gave Merck its highest word of mouth levels since June 2015. That is saying a lot for a gigantic parent company like that which is usually out of the average consumer’s eye compared to Apple, Facebook, etc.”
Of course, events like this can turn out to be fleeting, especially consumer perception-wise. And Merck’s numbers fell back to Earth soon after the incident. Its stock has also remained relatively flat since Frazier’s resignation from Trump’s advisory group.