Brands have recently been challenged by Millennials and Generation Z to take active stands on political and social issues, and many businesses are now getting more involved—but, perhaps due to today’s increasingly divisive political climate, new research from ad agency trade association the 4A’s suggests that brands reconsider taking sides.
The org recently released findings from two surveys monitoring consumers’ and agency professionals’ beliefs about brands taking political or social stances, revealing that two-thirds of agency professionals (67 percent) believe that changing American values are causing brands to become more interested in corporate responsibility and values-based marketing.
Agency respondents saw a distinction in brands taking political stances versus social ones—33 percent believe brands are more afraid to take a political stance than a social one (14 percent); likewise, they are more compelled to take a social stance (26 percent) than a political one (7 percent).
A complementary consumer study fielded by the 4A’s and research partner SSRS found the majority of consumers (58 percent) dislike when brands get political. Further, consumers are more likely to avoid brands that take a negative position (e.g., those that are perceived to be racist, anti-LGBTQ or sexist) than to support those that take a positive position (e.g., those that are perceived to be inclusive, pro-LGBTQ and feminist).
“Consumers are not looking to brands to take a position on political or social issues. In fact, there’s typically more risk than benefit,” said Alison Fahey, chief marketing officer of the 4A’s, in a news release. “Brands taking a negative approach risk backlash, and only a small percentage of consumers are moved to buy from positive messaging.”
When agency professionals were asked what they thought was the most important marketing lesson learned from the election, 57 percent cited that understanding the demographics and values of a brand’s customers is more important than ever. Since the election:
- 34 percent of respondents have counseled or required that more diverse perspectives were needed in creative or planning
- 30 percent have counseled clients to avoid engaging with controversial sociopolitical issues
- 25 percent have counseled clients to align with sociopolitical issues authentic to the brand
- 24 percent have considered sociopolitical issues in media buys
When it comes to political endorsements of brands, more than half of consumers (51 percent) reported that President Trump’s policies have made companies and brands more vocal and inclined to take action—however, his endorsements are not impacting their purchasing decisions. When the President gives a brand or product a positive endorsement, almost one-quarter of consumers (22 percent) say they are less likely to purchase the product. Regardless of whether he tweeted a positive or negative endorsement, about three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents said it had no impact on their purchasing decisions.
The 4A’s member survey was conducted in April and May 2017 via email; 329 4A’s members responded. The consumer survey was fielded by research partner SSRS; surveys were completed from March 29, 2017, to April 7, 2017, among a nationally represented sample of 1,056 respondents aged 18+. The margin of error for total respondents is +/- 3.6 percent.