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Taking a Stand: How Consumers View Brand Activism


Thought Leadership

Rain the Growth Agency recently conducted a study to explore how consumers perceive the importance of brands taking a public stance on environmental, social and political issues to gain a better understanding of opportunities that may exist for purpose-driven brands. Findings included:

  • Environmental issues are the most important cross generations and political ideology followed by social and political issues.
  • Liberal-leaning individuals, Gen Z, and Millennials are more likely to value brands taking a public stance on issues than conservative-leaning individuals, Boomers, and Gen Xers.
  • Women are more concerned about environmental issues than men, but there is no gender difference on social and political issues.
  • Less than one-in-four people would boycott a brand that has an opposing stance, but liberal-leaning individuals, very liberal individuals, and men are more likely to do so than conservative-leaning individuals, moderate individuals, and women.

The study asked people to rate the importance of brands taking a public stance on environmental, social, and political issues on a scale of 1 (not at all important) to 5 (critically important). The results show that:

  • Environmental issues have the highest average rating of 3.4, followed by social issues (2.7) and political issues (2.5).
  • Liberal-leaning individuals rate environmental issues higher than conservative-leaning individuals (4.1 vs. 2.8), but there is no significant difference on social and political issues (3.0 vs. 2.5 and 2.8 vs. 2.3 respectively).
  • Gen Z and Millennials rate all three types of issues higher than Boomers and Gen Xers, but the difference is more pronounced for social issues (3.3 vs. 2.4) and political issues (3.0 vs. 2.2) than for environmental issues (3.7 vs. 3.2).
  • Women rate environmental issues higher than men (3.6 vs. 3.2), but there is no significant difference on social and political issues (2.7 vs. 2.6 and 2.5 vs. 2.4 respectively).

The study also asked people if they would boycott a brand that takes a public stance on an issue that they disagree with. The results show that:

  • Thirty-four percent of people say they would boycott a brand with an opposing stance, while 40% say they would not and 26% say they are not sure.
  • Liberal-leaning individuals are more likely to boycott a brand than conservative-leaning individuals (49% vs. 32%), especially if they are very liberal (66% vs. 41% for moderately liberal).
  • There is no significant difference in boycotting behavior among different generations.

Activism: Implications for Brands

Brands that take a stance on social or political issues that don’t align with their brand’s core values or business may face reputational and boycott risks, which could lead to criticism and credibility issues. Additionally, if brands want to align with a cause, they should have a strong understanding of what will resonate with their target audience to ensure that any potential causes do not conflict with the beliefs of their core consumer.

Nevertheless, brands can find common ground across political ideology and generational lines. Most consumers are motivated to purchase from brands made in the U.S. and from brands that support small businesses.

Brands can conduct market research among current customers and potential reach audiences to determine if a particular issue resonates sufficiently among the base before making a public statement regarding a social issue or public policy.

Tools like Rain the Growth Agency’s proprietary MindReader™ quantitative platform can help brands explore target audience attitudes towards particular issues. Our first-party customer database analysis and segmentation tool, ConsumerID™, can also help brands identify effective target audience media consumption and worldview attitudes and behaviors.

This article is featured in Media Impact Report No. 49. View the full report here.