In this highly polarized political environment, brands face major challenges in trying not to take sides on hot-button issues. Being apolitical might look like insensitivity or tacit support for objectionable conduct or positions; taking a stand risks alienating “the other side.”
This is the essence of the challenge: how to navigate an increasingly tribal environment and appeal to the broadest possible audience. All of that is made more complicated by the finding, in a new report from Sprout Social, that 66 percent of consumers “want brands to take public stands on social and political issues.”
The survey of 1,000 US adults discovered that people who identified as liberal were more likely to feel strongly about brands taking social and political positions than self-identified conservatives, who didn’t feel as strongly.
The channel where people were most receptive to brands expressing social and political views was social media. That was followed by TV and radio, then brand websites or blogs. SMS was the place where people were least receptive to political or social messages from brands.
When brands take positions in alignment with consumers’ political views, those on the left are more likely to promote and buy from them than those who identify as conservative, according to the report. It asserts, “When it comes to stances they agree with, liberal consumers are more likely to show brand loyalty and to make purchases from that brand. The same holds true for stances with which they disagree. Liberal respondents are more likely to boycott a company after it takes a stand that opposes their personal beliefs, as well as to publicly criticize that company.”
This suggests different things for companies that appeal or market to segments that tend to be more left-leaning vs. conservative. It argues that “conservative brands” or those with right-leaning audiences should be less political and not take strong public positions. The opposite appears to be true for brands with progressive consumer audiences.
In terms of how brands should express their positions or stands, the following shows the desired hierarchy of actions. Making donations to a group or cause is identified as the most desirable expression of a position, followed by advocacy (on social media).
Respondents were roughly evenly divided among liberals, conservatives and moderates. However, nearly 80 percent of those who answered the survey were white. More than 80 percent had at least some college, with 57 percent having at least a two-year degree and 44 percent a four-year degree or more. Two-thirds of respondents were women.