Taking a stand is the new normal
Brands today have proven increasingly willing to take part in—and even lead—discussion on meaningful public issues, and new examples of brands taking a stand crop up daily. A collective of brands, including Spotify, Pinterest and Etsy, promoted giving U.S. workers Election Day off and making it a federal holiday for all employees. In response to current events, Airbnb launched its #WeAccept campaign with the goal of providing short-term housing for 100,000 people in need (from refugees to disaster survivors) over the next five years. In the wake of a mass shooting in one of its stores, Walmart ended sales of all handgun ammunition.
And while taking a stand can mean putting your business at risk, it’s what consumers demand. Regardless of their political beliefs, 70% of consumers feel it’s important for brands to take a stand on public issues, a sentiment that’s grown 6% from the 2017 survey in our first Brands Get Real report.
Different generations feel quite differently about brands taking a stand. Three-quarters of Generation Z and 80% of Millennials say it’s important for brands to take a stand, compared to just 68% of Baby Boomers and 58% of Generation X who feel similarly.
As for which issues consumers want brands to speak out on, healthcare (39%) ranks number one, followed by labor laws (38%) and climate change (36%). For comparison, in 2017 the top three issues consumers wanted brands to take a stand on were human rights, labor laws and poverty. While the 2017 survey didn’t specifically call out climate change, environmental issues overall ranked fifth in terms of topics people wanted brands to take a stand on, and healthcare ranked second to last.
Taking a stand comes with its own set of risks and rewards. Over half of consumers (55%) say they would boycott a brand whose stance they disagreed with. Among liberal consumers, 65% say they would boycott brands they disagree with, while 58% of conservative customers would do the same. On the other hand, when they agree with a brand’s stance, 37% of consumers say they would recommend the brand to friends and family. Thirty-six percent say they would purchase more from that brand and 29% would publicly praise or promote it.
As for how consumers want brands to communicate their position on public issues, nearly half of consumers (47%) say they want brands to take a stand on social media. Of the consumers who want brands to take a stand on social, 66% believe brands should do so because they can create real change and 63% of consumers say brands can use their platform to reach a wide audience. Trust is also a factor; of the consumers who want brands to voice their opinions on social, 44% believe brands should speak up because people trust them.
There’s a time and place for everything, and the same holds true for brands taking a stand. Asked when it is appropriate for brands to take a stand on social media, 43% of consumers say brands should speak out when an issue directly impacts their business. Thirty-eight percent of customers say brands should take a stand when a topic relates to a company’s values and 33% say brands should respond when faced with consumer backlash. On the other hand, 23% of consumers say it’s never appropriate for brands to take a stand on social media.
One divisive public issue frequently making its way into the headlines is gun control. For Walmart, the decision to publicly take a stand on guns after a shooting in one of their stores has drawn both criticism and praise from consumers on both ends of the political spectrum.
Facing public pressure on social platforms from consumers and groups like Everytown, Walmart took steps to discontinue sales of ammunition over the summer of 2019. Additionally, the retailer has started asking customers not to openly carry firearms in the store even in states where open carry is legal.
Despite some consumer backlash, it appears Walmart’s gun stance has inspired other retailers and supermarkets to institute a similar policy. Wegmans and CVS have both Tweeted statements echoing Walmart’s ask that customers not openly carry their guns in their respective stores.