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The 2024 State of the Media Report

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5 Problems Brands Come to you to Solve: Should my brand take a stand?

Girl making peace sign in street

Brands come to PR and comms professionals to help with any number of issues they don't have the expertise or bandwidth to tackle on their own. We're covering several of them- we started with customer complaints, moved on to crisis communications, and now we're tackling what can be a hot-button issue: brands taking a stand. 

Consumers increasingly want to buy from brands they feel reflect their personal values, and that can be tricky for brands who have to decide what they should take a public stand on and when. 

So how do you know when it's the right time for a brand you're working with to take a stance, and when and how should you promote that decision? 

Know your audience

Most things come back to that old adage: know your audience. You need to know if the target audience for the brand you're working with falls under the umbrella of consumers who want to buy from brands they share values with, or if they fall under the umbrella of those who would rather a brand "stick to sports", so to say. 

What do the stats say?  

  • 64% of surveyed global consumers base decisions on which brands to purchase from or boycott based on political or social leanings, according to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study. ​

What about more recently? 

  • 53% of consumers expect brands to get involved in at least one social issue that is not directly related to their business, though companies are often perceived as falling short: ​
  • 56% of people say brands overuse social issues as marketing ploys​
  • 21% say they know from personal experience that their chosen brands keep the best interests of society in mind (2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, via AdAge

Brands need to be smart about how they go about doing this; it can backfire if it’s seen as trying to manipulate their audience or because it’s simply something their audience doesn’t want from them. 

“My purchase of products each week makes more of a difference than my vote every four years in the broader debate on issues such as tolerance, environment and education,” Richard Edelman writes in The Next Giant Step, an essay he wrote to accompany the release of the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. “I want brands to stand with me.” - 5 key takeaways from the 2019 Edelman brand trust survey

What are some examples? 

Gillette ran a Super Bowl ad in 2019 that many saw as controversial. How did it perform? You can find statistics around social performance, but that doesn't tell us who they were talking to. 

"By targeting the campaign at Gen Z, per BrandTotal, Gillette might resonate with younger consumers who are known for being more inclusive and shunning outdated stereotypes, as opposed to older men, who might take greater offense at the messaging." -Marketing Dive

And this brings up an interesting phenomenon: other, unrelated brands using one brand's declared stance on a social issue to declare or reiterate their own. In this case, Egard watches put out a response ad to Gillette, aimed at an entirely different audience.  

The risk in this strategy is obvious; alienating your customer base or target audience of existing and potential customers could be a huge hit for a brand's bottom line. If it's really off-base, it could even snowball into a crisis comms situation. 

But if a brand really knows their audience (or is willing to do the work to get to know them) and knows they want to see something like this from the brands they buy from, this strategy can have a huge payoff. It's the PR and comms professional's job to lead them through this process and ensure it's the right move for a brand at the right time. 

It's impossible to predict perfect timing, but part of learning about- then keeping tabs on- an audience means listening to wider industry conversations that should inform timing for launching a campaign built around this strategy.

The bottom line? 

This strategy takes a lot of research and has to be done in a thoughtful and authentic way, or it stands to backfire. Be sure any brands you're working with are aware of the risks involved and help them develop a strategy that amplifies their core values and speaks with their voice.