Study: Consumers want brands to take a stand — to an extent

Most consumers want brands to take a stand on social and environmental issues. But they are divided when it comes to partisan politics,

Seventy percent of consumers want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues and 46% pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts when they buy a product, according to a survey by Markstein, an integrated communications agency, and Certus Insights, a public opinion firm. But 54% agreed that “a company’s social responsibility goes too far when (it) gets involved in partisan politics.”

Consumers also are skeptical of corporate motivations. Almost three-quarters agree that when big corporations donate to charities and help with community projects, they are doing it more to make themselves look good than to help people in need. Consumers are not always willing to take companies at their word when they say they are socially responsible –– only 9% say they believe corporate claims about social responsibility “all the time” and another 67% believe them “some of the time.”

“When it comes to social responsibility, consumers are looking for brands to show them – not just tell them – what they’re doing,” said Sheila McLean, president of Markstein, mid-Atlantic. “Navigating these expectations is not easy. Brands need a much deeper understanding of their customers’ values as they chart their own social responsibility course. They need to demonstrate real impact over time.”

The survey found generational differences. Millennials were more likely than older and younger generations to say the companies they do business with should support environmental initiatives all the time, even if it means raising prices (44% of millennials versus 28% of Generation X and 35% of baby boomers).

“Millennials continue to be more focused on social and environmental issues than younger and older consumers,” McLean said. “Millennial values will become more and more important as their purchasing power grows. By next year, millennials will represent 30% of all retail sales – an estimated $1.4 trillion a year.”

Many Americans view corporate social activism as skewing Democratic. Forty percent of Americans surveyed say when they hear that a company is socially responsible, they guess that the company leans to the Democratic side of the political spectrum, compared to 13% who assume it leans to the Republican side. 

Many consumers believe a company leans Democratic when it is active on issues related to poverty and employment opportunities (43%), the “Me Too” movement (50%), social justice and equality issues (55%), and environmental and sustainability issues (48%).

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