Gillette’s recent ad, challenging men to be the best men can be, has certainly elicited strong sentiments, both in support and in opposition. Was it the topic itself? Was it the delivery? Was it both? Do I need my disposable razor to have an opinion on #MeToo?
This debate is not new and is not unique to Gillette. A whole lot of jerseys, shorts and socks went up in flames when Nike stood behind Colin Kaepernick. There were predictions that #BoycottNike would lead to the company’s demise, yet it still stands. There were YouTube videos of exploding Keurig machines after the company chose to pull advertising from Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. There was the backlash faced by Pepsi after their offering of Kendall Jenner as a perceived proxy for Black Lives Matter.
So, why are companies bothering at all to jump into the fray on what are often seen as ‘culture war’ battle lines? Quite frankly, there are three stakeholder groups who expect and, in some cases, demand it:
Consumers – Recent studies have show that consumers expect major brands to take a stand on social and political issues like climate change, gun control, immigration, and LGBT rights, to name a few. An AdWeek study found that 78% of liberal consumers and 52% of conservative consumers said it was either “Somewhat Important” or “Very Important” for their brands to take a stand on a political or social issue. And, in fact, they not only expect there to be a company voice, they also expect the CEO and other key executives to be part of the dialogue.
Talent – For the past three years, millennials have made up the largest generational cohort in the U.S. workforce. Couple that with a falling unemployment rate and you have a candidate’s market. According to a recent Deloitte study, millennials want to work for a company that makes a positive impact on society. And even more importantly, they are more likely to stick around if they feel that their jobs have meaning and that they are able to make a difference through their employment at a given company.
Investors – Harvard Business Review reported that in 2018, 25% of all professionally managed assets in the United States, approximately $11.6 trillion, included strategies focused on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment criteria, including child labor practices, human rights abuses, negative environmental impact, poor governance, and a lack of gender equality. This represents a sharp increase from 8 years prior, when the amount was approximately $3 trillion overall.
So, I think it’s safe to say you will hear more of your favorite brands speaking out on any number of these topics in a public way. Given the state of today’s extreme polarization, they won’t do this haphazardly. There will be focus groups and high level strategy discussions both internally and in collaboration with high-powered consulting shops. There may even be AI-driven algorithms constructed to model tolerable losses of market share, which just might include you. At the end of the day, you as a consumer will have to decide whether or not a television commercial, Tweet or You Tube video is so misaligned or emotionally charged that you can no longer patronize particular products, services or entire brands.
Be mindful that what you hear and see at any one point and time from big brands is only one part of a holistic, multi-faceted, complex organization with numerous stakeholders, both domestic and abroad. Companies make social and political statements all the time, most of which are not readily apparent to the average consumer. These decisions show up in philanthropic decisions, employee benefit design, legislative lobbying, product mix, product pricing, 401K portfolio investment choices, supply chain management, even in hiring decisions. Maybe that one point in time message is all you need to decide to walk away or stay. Again, your choice. My guess is that if you dig deep enough and ask enough questions of every single brand you buy, you will eventually get to some issue, policy or practice that you don’t like.
So, what are you going to do when you don’t see eye to eye with your deodorant, your refrigerator or your spaghetti? Because if they haven’t shared their opinions with you yet, they will soon.
© 2019 David Casey Diversity, LLC. All rights reserved.