Consumers Want Brands to Take a Stand on Social Issues

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Nearly two-thirds of consumers want companies to take a stand on social issues, according to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand report.

The report, titled “Brands Take a Stand,” found that 64% of consumers worldwide are “belief-driven buyers.” This is up from last year when Edelman found that 51% of consumers were belief-driven buyers.

Belief-driven buyers are composed of 30% “leaders” — or those who have “strongly held, passionate beliefs” and believe that the brands they buy are one way to express those beliefs — and 34% “joiners,” or people who will change their buying behavior based on a brand’s stand.

Source: 2018 Edelman Earned Brand
Source: 2018 Edelman Earned Brand

“This is something that is not going away,” says Nick Lucido, vice president of practice development at Edelman.

The minority of consumers (36%) are “spectators,” or people who rarely buy on belief. These consumers don’t punish brands for taking a stand, Edelman finds.

Although most Americans think about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign as a brand taking a stand, Lucido says that belief-driven buyers are across the world.

About 59% of U.S. consumers are belief-based buyers, lower than countries including:

  • China: 78%
  • Brazil: 69%
  • India: 68%
  • France: 65%

Lucido says that before this study, he and others at Edelman thought that this trend was Western only, but he says that it’s “truly global.”

“It’s happening in places where people feel like governments and other intuitions are not standing up or being part of this change,” he says.

But change is different in each country. While American brands are likely familiar with the democratic consumer who wants social and political change, consumers in other countries long for different changes. Chinese consumers don’t take a stand against the government — this may get them arrested or killed — but they will take a stand against brands who fall short on LGBT issues, for example.

Or consider Brazil, a country in turmoil. In 2016, Brazil impeached its president; this year, the country is holding an election. “I think Brazilians are especially distrustful of institutions of government,” says Lucido, who lived there for two years. Historically, he says, this has meant that brands have an active role in supporting the arts and culture. Now, it means that Brazilian brands are skewing toward activism. In turn, Brazilians have higher expectations for the stands that their favorite brands take.

Edelman finds that across the board, adults of all ages want brands to take a stand:

  • Of 18- to 34-year-olds, 69% want brands to take a stand.
  • Of 35- to 54-year-olds, 67% want brands to take a stand.
  • Of people over age 55, 56% want brands to take a stand.

The top 25% of income-earners across the world are the people who most want brands to take a stand: 69% of the top 25% of earners are belief-driven buyers, compared with 62% of the bottom 75% of earners.

What Do Brands Get from This?

Edelman asked consumers whether brands were doing a good job reaching them. “We found that people don’t think brands are doing a good job talking about what they believe in,” Lucido says.

According to the report, 56% of consumers believe that marketers spend too much time trying to push them to buy and not enough time thinking of ways to make consumers pay attention. This is even higher in western or westernized countries: 65% in the U.K., 64% in India and 63% in the U.S.

Following this, 60% of consumers say that brands need to make it easier to see brand values and positions at the point of sale. This is highest, by far, in India at 79%, followed by Brazil at 69% and China at 68%.

Edelman also finds that 43% of consumers say that a brand’s stand may drive purchase intent, and 44% are driven to purchase by product features.

How Can Brands Take a Stand?

“Take a stand,” is a loaded term, Lucido says, but it can be broken down into three types.

1) Purpose: “Clearly articulate why your brand exists and make a proactive effort to address that purpose,” Edelman’s report says. Companies need to live this purpose every day.

2) Culture: “Authentically connect your stand to a relevant moment in culture,” Edelman’s report says. Companies must make sure they’re connecting to culture and not simply co-opting it.

3) Activism: “Confront a controversial issue that has a direct impact on your stakeholders and/or your brand,” Edelman’s report says. Companies must be sure their stakeholders will support their decision and act on it.

These phases will need to be taken one at a time, Lucido says: “Going from zero to activism is a challenge.”

Lucido recommends first identifying the brand’s purpose and ensuring it is applied across the board: hiring, supply chain and how the company works with its employees. It’s all important to be sure the company is living its purpose.


About the Author | Hal Conick

Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.