January 3, 2019

Should companies take a stand on social issues?

By Ella Wilson

social activism for brands
Should your brand take a stand on controversial social issues? It can be a risky bet – but the payoff can be incredible.

In the political dumpster fire that is American life in 2018, you’ve probably got an opinion on gun control, refugees, climate change, and #MeToo that gets you yelled at during Thanksgiving dinner. As a regular person, it’s hard to avoid the drama of what’s going on in our country right now. As a company, however, you’ve got a choice.

Some of the biggest businesses in the world have been speaking up on controversial social issues, to wildly exciting results. But the choice to become a socially or politically active should not be made flippantly, as there are serious risks involved for your brand. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking of throwing your company’s hat in the ring on important issues.

You’ll get lots of publicity

When Nike’s 2018 Colin Kaepernick ad went live, people lost their minds. Football quarterback Kaepernick is famous for protesting police brutality against people of color by kneeling during the national anthem at football games.

His kneeling protest has been picked up by other players, and legions of people that never cared about football before know Kaepernick’s name because they support his protest. However, some people have interpreted Kaepernick’s protest as a snub to members of the military – and they fiercely and vocally oppose both the kneeling and Kaepernick himself.

So when Nike came out with the Kaepernick ad, which showed his face overlaid with the words “Believe in Something. Even if it Mean Sacrificing Everything,” it got 24/7 news coverage. It was in every newspaper, news website, all over social media, talk shows … everywhere. It was impossible to escape the Nike ad and discussions about it.

Supporters of Kaepernick’s protest got their wallets out to buy Nike merchandise. Opponents took to social media to destroy their Nike gear. For publicity, you just couldn’t beat the whirlwind the Kaepernick ad created.

Opponents were sure the ad would sink the brand, but they were wrong. Since the Colin Kaepernick ad went live, Nike’s sales jumped by 31%, netting the company an ADDITIONAL $6 billion.

Millennials love to spend money for a good cause

Consumers, particularly millennial consumers, like to spend their money where they know it’s doing the most good. Millennials are saddled with student loan debt, low employment, stagnant wages, and rising home prices. So they’re unsurprisingly unforgiving of corporate greed. They want to spend their money knowing some of it goes to good causes instead of buying a CEO a second yacht.

And since millennials are the largest generation that America has ever seen – there are 75.4 million of them – doing whatever it takes to get their money is just good business.

Hence the popularity of TOMS shoes. TOMS opened in 2006 with a “One-for-One” model of giving. For each pair of TOMS purchased, the company donates one to a person in need. The company has grown to be worth more than $600 million in a little over 10 years and has donated more than 60 million pairs of shoes worldwide.

But it’s easy to sell the idea of giving shoes to kids in need. But what about taking on a more hot-button issue?

Inspired by the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif, in November 2018, TOMS launched a campaign to end gun violence. It started with a $5 million dollar donation to gun violence prevention groups, and it continues by sending postcards to Representatives on behalf of anyone that signs up. The postcards urge representatives to pass universal background checks on gun purchases.

In the first five days, 500,000 people signed up for have a postcard sent. That’s 500,000 people that came to the TOM’s website, filled out a form (including their email address), and sent a postcard. Odds are, they probably did some shopping while they were there, too.

Build loyalty in your fan base and employees

Buying and selling things, though it can be fun and exciting, is hardly fulfilling. Aligning your company with social causes taps into something deeper than bank accounts – it reaches into your customers’ and employees’ hearts.

  • Founder of TOMS Shoes Blake Mycoskie told Donald Miller on this podcast that there are three things a company can expect when they have a bigger purpose than their bottom line:
  • Customers connect to that purpose and feel like they’re part of it – then they become your biggest word-of-mouth marketers.
  • You attract and retain talent – If you can help people give back at work, you inspire them and truly improve their quality of life. That creates loyalty.
  • People want you to be successful – People will go out of their way to help you succeed, whether that’s buying your product or celebrities spreading your mission for free.

More than 80% of Americans report feeling disengaged from their jobs. By working for a company that fights for a better world, these employees can now hitch their wagons to something bigger than a paycheck. A sense of purpose goes a long way toward keeping employees engaged and happy in their work.

But …

You may alienate some of your customers

Hot button issues cause extreme, emotional reactions on both sides. The last few years’ “gay wedding cake” controversy has shown just how passionate people get when they feel their rights are being violated – when one side sees refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple as “religious freedom,” the other side sees it as “discrimination.” And both are willing to fight tooth and nail to get what they want.

When taking a stand on a controversial issue, you run the risk of losing business from certain customers – no matter which side of the issue you take. You can circumvent this by framing your work in a way that can appeal to both sides. For examples, TOMS has customers all over the political spectrum. To keep from alienating gun-owning customers, their gun violence campaign is framed around the idea that if responsible gun owners want to keep their Second Amendment rights, they’re going to have to keep gun out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them – hence the push for background checks.

Or, if you don’t want to be kept up at night wondering how your social stance will affect your business, it can be in your best interest sometimes to choose something that’s less divisive. There are lots of good causes out there that won’t end in a boycott.

But you don’t have to be a multi-national corporation to get in on the game

You don’t have to have a billion dollar budget to make a difference on issues that are important to you and your customers. There is always plenty to be done on the local level. Maybe you can’t stop climate change, but you can start a recycling program at your office. Maybe you can’t get a religious freedom bill passed, but you can volunteer at a local church. Every little bit helps.

Work with a company with a purpose – us! 

GetUWired is proud to support small businesses in the U.S. and around the globe. Get started with a free 1-hour consult by giving us a call at 1-877-236-9094 or visiting our website at www.GetUWired.com.



About Ella Wilson

Ella WilsonElla Wilson is GetUWired’s “Queen of Words.” This world-class marketing copywriter is a former journalist and travel writer who’s spent the last decade weaving gripping tales for publications coast to coast. She’s got her finger on the pulse of today’s marketing trends. Notable clients who have been graced with her powerful prose include FUBU founder and Shark Tank star Daymond John, self-help star and Emmy-award winner Rhonda Britten, and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Daniel Amen.