Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is my not-so-guilty pleasure due to its advocacy of racial justice, climate action, democracy, and LGBTQ+ rights. I happily pay $7 for Karamel Sutra at the corner convenience store because I agree with the social mission the company supports.
We all want to make an impact. One way to contribute to the causes we value is with our dollar.
Companies that take a stance on political issues through their marketing raise awareness, amplify marginalized voices, and provide a convenient means for consumers to make an impact.
This should originate from a social mission—a desire to make the world a better place through the organization’s service or product. This model values people over profit.
The mission should be apparent through the company’s marketing, attracting consumers with shared values.
We Buy or Boycott Based On Values
A 2018 study by Edelman found that two-thirds or 64% of consumers worldwide will buy or boycott a brand due to its political stance.
According to a Forbes article, 35% of US adults reported increased trust in brands that take a stance. The same article notes that at the same time, 43% of people preferred companies that voice their beliefs through marketing.
Public relations fosters interpersonal relationships, providing two-way communication between an organization and its public(s). Companies and PR pros must listen to and prioritize consumers’ needs. When two-thirds of consumers across the globe confirm that they spend based on values, companies should accommodate this action by taking a political stance.
This public display of support provides a medium for customers to endorse meaningful causes. This makes a difference in the social missions, and it expands a consumers’ sense of purpose and contribution. When companies provide consumers a platform to support missions, we co-create a better world and the future we wish to see.
How Patagonia Started the Movement
Outdoor-gear brand Patagonia is an example of a company that provides a meaningful platform by taking a political stance. The brand has donated 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the environment since 1985.
As of 2021, the company has awarded more than $140 million to grassroots environmental groups. Patagonia set the goal and chose the social mission to support, but the money came from its customers.
Companies such Patagonia, which take a political stance through their marketing, enjoy meaningful relationships with dedicated customers who share their vision and support their goals. The company and consumers collaborated to make significant changes in local communities. Patagonia gives people the opportunity to protect the natural environment while buying items they need.
Patagonia is successful with its political stance because of its authenticity. The company sells outdoor gear to people who enjoy spending time in nature. By extension, these nature-lovers most likely care about environmental protection and restoration. Their passion and values align with Patagonia’s mission.
This alignment in beliefs leads to loyal customers. A nature-lover who cares deeply about the environment is going to choose Patagonia over brands that do not donate to preservation organizations.
It Has to Be Authentic
Transparency is key to building meaningful relationships with customers and creating significant change. We’ve all seen companies sell rainbow-themed products during Pride Month, only never to mention gay rights during the other 11 months. This short-lived display angers consumers because it appears those companies only show support to increase their popularity and overall profit.
Honesty is a value in the PRSA Code of Ethics. A company’s PR must represent them in an honest and transparent manner. Companies should not capitalize on a popular movement to remain relevant and boost sales. Their political stance should be woven into their operation and vision.
AT&T is an example of a brand that has created distrust through a lack of integrity. Though the company’s advertising supports gay rights and has partnered with The Trevor Project— a nonprofit that provides crises counseling to LGBTQ+ youth—they donated thousands of dollars to anti-LGBTQ+ rights Senator Marsha Blackburn.
When words do not align with actions, companies garner negative attention. Their marketing is only ethical if they are honest. These efforts will reach people only if the company is transparent and authentic with its mission and goals.
It’s Proven to Be Effective
Though transparency and authenticity build stronger relationships with people who share the company’s values, taking a political stance may cause conflict with those who do not.
The Edelman study states that people also boycott brands that express opposing political views.
While risk is involved when taking a political stance, the rewards are often far greater. People care about companies that care about more than profits.
In taking a political stance, a brand expresses its dedication to making a positive impact. For instance, when Nike debuted quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick as a spokesman, former President Donald Trump’s condemnation of the company’s choice won them more attention. After the debut, sales shot up by 31 percent, and Nike saw a 10 percent increase in customers.
Nike benefits from loyal customers who passionately support it because of its stance on racial justice. While the company lost a portion of customers with a different political perspective, the loyalty, dedication, and passion of customers they gained have more than made up for the loss.
Companies With a Social Mission
People do not always consider corporate social responsibility. This could be due to disinterest, convenience, or financial restraints.
For example, I would love to support independent bookstores exclusively. However, I buy most books on Amazon because they are often the most affordable.
Since 2020, the amount of people who do not care about corporate social responsibility has shrunk. The pandemic highlighted injustices and drove most people to take strong political stances. People are more conscious of how they can make a difference, and they understand that their dollar is a powerful way to achieve meaningful change.
We quickly learn to associate mission-driven brands with their values. I reach for Dove in the soap aisle— thinking of their Self-Esteem Project and efforts to increase body positivity.
Throwing a Tide Pod in the washing machine, I remember P&G’s My Black is Beautiful campaign, which has started essential conversations on police brutality and injustice.
When my socks get holey, I select a pair of Bombas for my Amazon cart, knowing that I am also buying one for someone in need. (The company has donated more than 10,000 pairs of socks to homeless shelters.)
We may buy from certain companies out of convenience. Yet we commit to and return and discuss companies making a positive difference in the world.
Companies should use their marketing to take a political stance because it inspires effective co-creation of a world we dream of sharing.