Brands That Retract Support For Social Causes Risk Losing Consumers

Brands that retract support for social causes risk losing consumers

Article by Karen Jacobs  |  UPDATED: Nov 27, 2023

The trend: Consumers value brands that champion social causes and show unwavering support, even when they face backlash for their stances, recent research from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) finds.

  • For every consumer who supports a brand backing away from diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) pledges, four to five would reward companies that stand by them, the survey of more than 9,200 people showed.
  • 77% of respondents are willing to abandon brands that reverse their support for diversity, and 76% would not return to brands that don’t change their positions and practices.

Diversity dealt blow: DEI initiatives have suffered amid economic cutbacks and in the aftermath of this year’s Supreme Court ruling that outlawed race-based affirmative action in college admissions. Political attacks on “woke” issues have also ramped up, increasing brands’ fears of becoming targeted for their inclusive efforts.

  • Glassdoor data released this month show the share of employees reporting that their company offered a diversity program fell to 43.1% this year from 43.5% last year and 45.8% in 2021, when many corporations made good on pledges to bolster DEI efforts after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
  • Challenges to firms’ environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investing are increasing, and a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in US state legislatures.
  • “As consumers are prioritizing DEIB [diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging] more and more, we see more and more companies that are minimizing those efforts,” said Lisette Arsuaga, co-founder of the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing.

Yay outweighs nay: But despite some visible, well-publicized opposition to diversity efforts and other social causes, the ANA survey showed that support for these issues among consumers is greater than the opposition.

  • 62% of consumers support brands that offer targeted multicultural and diverse-focused services, products, or experiences, per the survey, while just 11% to 13% oppose inclusive efforts.
  • Target and Bud Light pulled pro-LGBTQ+ products and marketing in response to conservative opposition, only to be hit by backlash from consumers upset by their reversals.

Our take: Authenticity, consistency, and inclusivity matter in brand messaging and actions, especially regarding social causes and DEI efforts. Despite the risks, brands can’t sit out as culture wars rage on.

  • Brands taking bold stances can position themselves to weather controversy by ensuring their positions have corporate buy-in and by being prepared to proactively address backlash.
  • Marketers at brands that understand support for social causes not only attracts customers but also fosters long-term loyalty “will feel they are walking less on eggshells and more confident in their inclusive efforts,” Arsuaga said.
  • Efforts to curb DEI programs point to a need for brands to augment their support, as research shows inclusive practices not only draw diverse talent but also can fuel business growth.

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