As we stare down the barrel of the midterms, many of us face the political uncertainty with an uneasy mix of hope and skepticism. But whatever the result of Tuesday’s vote, one thing is certain, corporations will face continued pressure to take a stand on societal issues, in a country that is increasingly polarized.
MWWPR’s recent study shows that a powerful and growing segment of the U.S. population – the Corpsumers – expect companies to play an active part in solving the biggest issues facing society.
These socially-conscious consumers believe that a company’s reputation, values and behavior are just as important as the products it sells – and if they believe in your brand, they will champion and advocate for you across their network of friends and social channels.
But how can brands successfully engage in the current political climate?
Research shows that CorpSumers’ confidence in government has eroded a further 8-points since 2017, and these influencers are increasingly turning to CEOs to fill the void and tackle the big societal issues. We know that today 90 million U.S. adults identify as CorpSumers, and 90% of US CorpSumers are more likely to try a product from companies that take a stand on societal and public policy matters.
Consumers expect corporations not only to live by their values by upholding internal policies on key issues, but also to be an active public agent for positive change. We know that 61% of CorpSumers believe companies have a greater ability to make a positive change in the world than government. To succeed, CEOs and corporations must be brave and act with purpose, by ensuring their audience understands their values – as well as the benefits of their products and services.
Brands who are willing to roll up their sleeves and fight for what they believe in – from the environment, to immigration, freedom of speech, diversity and equality – have already reaped the benefits in terms of customer loyalty and brand equity, when executed authentically.
Over the last few months, we have seen political activism and mission-led marketing successfully executed by brands who have focused on increasing voter turnout. Levi’s cleverly used Aretha Franklin’s “Think” as the soundtrack to a bipartisan “Use Your Vote” ad to inspire people from all walks of life to vote in the midterms, and deftly danced down the line between inspiring and provocative. They also joined forces with Patagonia and over 140 companies including PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart to create the Time to Vote initiative. The campaign seeks to address the fact that the U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world – recently as low as 36% in the last midterm elections – by encouraging employees to vote. We will see on Tuesday whether these initiatives have been successful in driving larger waves of voters to go to the polls.
Other brands have been brave enough to take a more direct stance on fighting specific policies. On November 1st, over 50 companies including Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google signed a public letter to oppose a restrictive transgender bill which threatens federal protections for over a million Americans who don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Together these companies represent over 5 million employees combined, and proudly proclaimed that “diversity and inclusion are good for business.”
By being fearless in the face of controversy, genuinely taking a stand can deliver great rewards. Patagonia’s bold “The President Stole Your Land” campaign to protest the selling off of national monuments not only sparked their lawsuit against the current administration, but also resulted in increased customer loyalty and translated into an uptick in sales of 7% in the following week. Nike’s choice to stand by Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality by featuring him in their anniversary ad campaign generated two very opposite outcomes. On one hand, the campaign resulted in a boycott, an initial 3.9% drop in share price, and a few angry people burning their treasured sneakers, but on the other, it increased sales by 31% over the following period, and reportedly delivered over $43 million in media coverage within 24 hrs.
Conservative brands have also not shied away from living their values. Chick-fil-A courted controversy when their CEO made a series of public comments opposing same-sex marriage, and it was discovered that their affiliated charitable foundation had donated millions to organizations which are viewed as hostile to LGBT rights. In spite of protests and boycotts, many of their customers supported their position, and their sales still rose 12% in the following period.
In these cases, corporate activism works because their campaigns resonate deeply and authentically with their values and their audience. Patagonia’s actions are rooted in 40 years of supporting environmental causes and connects directly with their mission and genuine love of exploring the outdoors. Chick-fil-A’s views are consistent with the “traditional Christian values” of an organization that chooses to stay closed on Sundays, so a large portion of their customer base seemed undeterred. Ironically, 43% of CorpSumers prefer a company to take a stand on an issue, even if it does not align with their own point of view.
At a time when so many of us are losing faith in our elected leaders, taking a risk and making a stand to fight for what you believe in – either as a consumer or as a corporation – feels more crucial than ever. So go vote with your ballot and your wallet, and you better be digging into your Ben & Jerry’s Pecan Resist ice cream as you watch the midterm results roll in.
Meanwhile, CEOs should be poised to continue to play an active role in shaping our society, whatever the outcome, as today’s most loyal consumers demand and depend on it.