In a particularly divisive period for society and politics, two-thirds of surveyed consumers believe it's important that brands take public stances on issues such as immigration, civil rights and race relations, according to findings from a Sprout Social report made available to Marketing Dive.
- Fifty-eight percent of respondents believe brands should share their opinions on social media — a channel consumers are particularly receptive to, with 61% reporting it's important for brands to post their stances there, specifically. Splitting down a binary political spectrum, 78% of self-identified liberal consumers want brands to be more vocal in their politics while that sentiment rang true for 52% of conservatives.
Despite these trend lines, 66% of respondents said brands rarely or never influence their opinions on social and political issues. Instead, respondents desire to see brands donate to social causes (39%) and encourage their followers to take similar actions like donating or attending an event (37%).
Marketers have long avoided mixing business and politics for fear of alienating certain consumer segments, but that's become a trickier balancing act to maintain as opinions are amplified and made ubiquitous by digital channels and social media. Sprout Social's study further pushes against conventional wisdom to suggest savvy brands might actually be rewarded in communicating authenticity if they throw their hat in the political ring.
"People's desire for brands to take a stand on social and political issues means that marketers need to reframe the conversation about what it means to be relevant in the age of activism," Andrew Caravella, Sprout Social's VP of strategy and brand engagement, said in a statement to Marketing Dive. "Brands' social content can't be all products, lifestyle and promotions — it needs to layer those in while thoughtfully integrating socially-conscious content."
The need for a different approach partially stems from what's now a contentious and difficult-to-avoid national discourse, but might also come as younger consumer sets like Gen Z express a desire for more progressivism and multiculturalism in their marketing. While the demand for politically-active brands could be on the rise, it's still an arena where marketers must tread carefully lest they come off as cynical, tone deaf or bandwagon supporters. Sprout Social's data found that businesses should focus on contextually-relevant issues that directly impact their brand, employees or business operations. Patagonia, with its consistent support of environmental conservatism, including recently announced plans to sue President Donald Trump over the reduction in size of land monuments, was called out for its efforts.
Sprout Social's findings go slightly against the research of some trade groups. Last May, 4A's released a study that said 58% of consumers dislike when brands get political in their marketing. At the same time, 67% of surveyed agency professionals believed changing values are causing brands to become more interested in corporate responsibility and values-based marketing. It's possible the 4A's results were influenced by notably bad contemporary examples of marketing with a conscious message, including a protest-themed ad from Pepsi that the brand had to pull almost immediately from air following backlash.