Should Brands Take a Stand?

Ben & Jerry’s sparked a heated debate after posting a statement on their website supporting the Black Lives Matter movement — and this isn’t the first time they made the headlines.

The ice cream company has been publicly vocal about its support for issues surrounding LGBT equality, climate justice and GMO labeling. And with every bold action comes the risks of jeopardizing customer loyalty, reputation, and business itself. So it’s not that surprising when other big corporations don’t chime in during the uproar. But in a time of social unrest, it’s become increasingly important for brands to take a stand. And with technology at our fingertips, customers know more about companies than ever before, and they want to see their values reflected in the businesses they support. Sooner or later, brands have to ask themselves: “Which stance should I take, and is it worth the risks?”

#BoycottBenandJerrys and #BenandJerrysNewFlavor are just a few examples of the trending hashtags that acted as a platform for taking sides on Ben & Jerry’s decision, and it’s safe to say things got a bit tense.

“…Aaaand I’ll never buy Ben & Jerry’s again. No amount of Chunky Monkey will make up for them blasting police officers. Bunch of liberal hippies. #boycottbenandjerrys,” shared a Facebook user in response to the Blue Live’s Matter post below.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The official Blue Lives Matter page took action with a post that showed “BOYCOTT” stamped across an image of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

With over l million followers, there’s no denying the influence of the Blue Lives Matter organization, especially in this particular context. But is it enough to have a real impact on the much-loved ice cream giant’s business?

Some of the positive responses would say otherwise. “Hands up, don’t Scoop”, “Fudge the Police” and “Rocky Road to Equality” are just a few samples of the ice cream flavor suggestions under the trending hashtag, #BenandJerrysNewFlavor. Along with these suggestions came praise and promise to support Ben & Jerry’s business.

So did taking a stand benefit or harm Ben & Jerry’s brand identity? It’s a little too soon to tell, but it’s going to be a bit of both no matter what. Any stance is going to be met with either support or opposition, but matching your values with those of your customers is the start of something all businesses need to be a part of: change. And in a time when brands have more than enough access to customer data and preferences, it’s hard not to consider taking a side that fits your audience — but how do you go about choosing the right platform?

Take Target, for example. Just a few years ago, they were in the hot seat for funding antigay candidates and groups, resulting in LGBT rights activists threatening to boycott the major retailer. And now they’re dealing with a boycott for the exact opposite reason. After taking a stand against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT bill back in April, over 1 million people signed the American Family Association’s pledge to boycott Target in response to their policy allowing Target customers to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Why did they turn a complete 180º on their position?

“Given the specific questions these legislative proposals raised about how we manage our fitting rooms and restrooms, we felt it was important to state our position. Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target,” the company said in a blog post.

In this case, it makes a lot of sense for a huge retail chain to take a stand on an issue that directly affects customers, even if it means dividing those very customers.

As with Ben & Jerry’s, audiences took to social media to take a side on Target’s decision, with popular hashtags like #BoycottTarget and #StandwithTarget taking over social spaces to channel user opinions.

Even though Target rolled out new, successful ads supporting their decision, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the real financial impact of the #BoycottTarget movement. According to Breitbart, Target CEO Brian Cornell denied any financial repercussions in result of their new policy, despite the estimated 20% drop in Target’s stock after the announcement.

“Cornell also said the company has not seen a ‘material’ impact to its overall business from the protests, but has seen some hit to sales in a ‘handful’ of stores. He declined to quantify the extent of the hit, however.”

While the exact ramifications are a little unclear, Target nonetheless proposed a compromise to invest $20 million in adding single-stall bathrooms throughout the chain. This way, they can appease both sides of the controversy without taking back their statement to support LGBT rights.

But, was this enough for the naysayers?

“We still believe Target doesn’t value the safety of families because they’ve refused to reverse this dangerous policy,” said American Family Association President Tim Wildom.

With such a mixed bag of positive and negative responses to both Ben & Jerry’s and Target’s statements, it’s hard not to consider whether taking a stand is really worth all the trouble.

The truth is, it depends.

For a company like Ben & Jerry’s, that isn’t afraid to slap political views right on their product, it may very well be worth all the trouble. They know their audience and they know what their business stands for, regardless of the backlash that follows. Even Target, which may or may not have suffered serious financial loss, gained a lot of support in the process, and wasn’t alone in the stand for LGBT rights. In light of the HB2 bill controversy, other huge corporations like Apple, Salesforce and Bank of America joined in solidarity against the bill. It goes to show, choosing to take a risk has its benefits.

But, then there’s the question of, is this stance on the right side of history? Political and social views are constantly evolving, and choosing the wrong side of an issue is something customers won’t forget. And for the brands that choose to be on the right side of history, can they be leaders of social change? We may be in an age where the revolution is led by capitalism.