March 5, 2020

Written by:

Chris Higgins

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Activism, Ethics and Consumer Trust

As brand activism and association with popular #Advocacy continues to drive media strategy for many brands, new polling suggests that business ethics and values can be a significant driver of customer loyalty (particularly in the long term), and the reaction to modern activist trends can have deep impacts on how a brand is perceived.

A growing number of businesses have advocacy and ethical issues baked into their core offering, with Lush, The Body Shop, Fenty Beauty and more deliberately encouraging their customers to consider the ethical issues surrounding their respective industries before making a purchase. Alongside the modern encouragement of activism in a personal capacity, consumers have an expectation of social awareness and genuine engagement with the issues of the day.

In a survey of 2,000 US consumers conducted by – which questioned respondents on how businesses can secure their loyalty as the new decade begins – over 80% of consumers said that they consider a company’s ethics, values, and position on specific concerns before making a purchase – and nearly 50% considered those factors to be as important as price. Nearly 40% of responders even said that they’d previously refused to use a company over their ethical concerns.

Whilst the numbers involved in this type of polling are never huge, they show a high level of concern from consumers, and we can often see the knock-on effects of vocal calls for change to ethical policies – most recently in the abandonment of plastic straws and the move to catering more directly toward vegan and vegetarian customers from the bigger legacy brands that do not necessarily have a social policy built in.

Ethics Impacting Customer Expectations

This has had a further impact on what consumers expect from brands when it comes to social responsibility on top of their stated ethical commitments – ensuring that their brand values are actually being acted upon. From the poll; popular advocacy topics are also front of mind for many consumers when choosing a brand – environmental responsibility (45%), supporting worker’s rights (44%), and ending animal testing (44%) were cited as the three most important ethical issues affecting consumer choice.

As with all brand media efforts, the choice of cause and the sincerity with which a brand engages can have a great impact on customer perception – with the huge amount of faked content, and the popularity of paid influencers and ‘product reviews’, it can be incredibly easy for a brand to be perceived as insincere or merely jumping on bandwagons – we’ve written before about a Pepsi commercial in 2017 attempting to associate the brand with popular, democratic protests became quickly notorious for its tone-deaf approach to the issues and use of popular media figures.

Brands should avoid fake authenticity

As a result, customers can be very wary of content that engages with ethical problems or popular activism, and faked authenticity or the lack of genuine engagement and understanding can cause huge problems – particularly as user generated content, reactions, and both protests and encouragement can have an impact on purchases. Even negative content can cause positive reactions – media figures reacting negatively to vegan products has led to a huge surge in vegan alternatives from some of the biggest fast food brands in the UK as consumers changed purchasing behaviours to spite the negative reactions.

Brands can avoid this through genuine engagement, careful understanding of the issues with which they are engaging, and listening carefully to customer feedback. Appropriate use of content that strives for high quality, clear messaging, and avoiding bandwagons that are irrelevant to your brand. Your values should reflect your brand, products, and actions – not the latest trends.