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Brands need to be socially responsible—and be able to prove it

by | Oct 14, 2019 | Public Relations

Seventy percent of consumers want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues, and 46 percent pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts when they buy a product, according to new research from integrated comms agency Markstein and public opinion firm Certus Insights.

But while consumers are paying attention, they also are skeptical of corporate motivations

Almost three-quarters agree that when big corporations donate to charities and help with community projects, they are doing it more tomake themselves look good than to help people in need. Consumers are not always willing to take companies at their word when they say they are socially responsible––only 9 percent say they believe corporate claims about social responsibility “all the time” and another 67 percent believe them “some of the time.”

“When it comes to social responsibility, consumers are looking for brands to showthem—not just tellthem—what they’re doing,” said Sheila McLean, president of Markstein mid-Atlantic, in a news release. “Navigating these expectations is not easy. Brands need a much deeper understanding of their customers’ values as they chart their own social responsibility course. They need to demonstrate real impact over time.”

Consumers are almost evenly divided over whether corporations should get involved in partisan politics, with 54 percent agreeing that “a company’s social responsibility goes too far when (it) gets involved in partisan politics.”

The danger of partisan politics

Many Americans view corporate social activism as skewing Democratic. Forty percent of Americans surveyed say when they hear that a company is socially responsible, they guess that the company leans to the Democratic side of the political spectrum, compared to 13 percent who assume it leans to the Republican side.

Many consumers believe a company leans Democratic when it is active on issues related to poverty and employment opportunities (43 percent), the #MeToo movement (50 percent), social justice and equality issues (55 percent), and environmental and sustainability issues (48 percent).

Generational differences

The survey found generational differences, with millennials more likely than older and younger generations to say the companies they do business with should support environmental initiatives all the time, even if it means raising prices (44 percent of millennials versus 28 percent of Generation X and 35 percent of baby boomers).

“Millennials continue to be more focused on social and environmental issues than younger and older consumers,” McLean said. “Millennial values will become more and more important as their purchasing power grows. By next year, millennials will represent 30 percent of all retail sales—an estimated $1.4 trillion a year.”

Older generations are more inclined to look to individuals to drive social change—34 percent of baby boomers versus 17 percent of millennials, who were more likely to cite large corporations and small businesses (18 percent).

A nationally representative online survey of 600 adults was conducted by Certus in August.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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