By Max Nelson in Brands & Agencies|August 31, 2020

Should brands weigh in on social issues? Let’s go to the data

A few months ago, we set out to conduct a new research project with our partners at The Harris Poll. Going into it, our primary goal was to get a snapshot of the current moment in time and see how both consumers and marketers are adapting to a year that has been unlike any in recent memory.

We’re currently in the process of packaging the report, and will be releasing it later in September, but due to recent events in the news, we have decided to preview some data.

Specifically, we had a section in the research dedicated to the intersection of brands and social justice issues. Since the protests began in May around George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, we have seen social justice issues rise to the forefront of our national dialog, and as we kicked off our latest Harris Poll Research project, we felt that brand engagement around these issues would be an interesting topic to explore.

Should brands be obligated to acknowledge or take a stand for or against social issues? Do consumers want them to?

For this project, we surveyed 1,000 US consumers and 500 marketers in the US, and what we found was very interesting.

  • Marketers may overestimate the appetite consumers have for them to acknowledge social justice issues. 82% of marketers responded that they thought consumers wanted them to weigh in on social issues, yet only 46% of consumers say they want this. This sentiment seems to be changing with generations, however, and among Gen Z and millennials, 64% claim that they would like brands to weigh in on social justice issues.
  • Taking a stand can impact sales. If a brand takes a position on a social justice issue that is similar to how a consumer feels, 57% of consumers say it increases their likelihood to buy/use their product (77% of GenZ/Millennials). If a brand takes a position on a social justice issue that is different than how a consumer feels, 61% say they are less likely to buy/use their product. Clearly there is some risk here for a marketer, but this can also be a way to connect deeper with their customers.
  • Marketers that weighed in on George Floyd don’t have regrets. 75% of B2C marketers say they publicly acknowledged, made a statement, or took some action on the George Floyd incident (only 45% of B2B marketers did), and of those marketers who did, 52% say it had a positive impact, and only 7% say it had a negative impact. 41% of marketers who made a public response say it actually drove sales.

In summary, there are many factors for marketers to consider when deciding whether their company should take a position on social issues, and the makeup and expectations of their customers is certainly one to consider. In the end, however, a brand will know best what makes sense for their particular business, and we expect brands to continue evaluating how they will approach these situations going forward given younger generations are increasingly focused on how brands align with their values.

For any questions about the study, or to see the raw data, email

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