Consumers Reward Brands That Take a Stand

Sarah Steimer
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Key Takeaways

​What? Consumers want brands to take a stand on serious issues.

So what? Some consumers will pay a premium for a brand that supports their position.

Now what? Evaluate whether a controversial topic is relevant to your business before making a statement. Then be clear on your stance.

​Oct. 6, 2017

Consumers want brands to take a stand on serious issues

For the first time since Edelman began tracking the trend, trust in four institutions—business, government, non-governmental institutions and media—fell in 2017.

Mark Renshaw, global chair of brand practice at Edelman, says people rely on brands to navigate the world, and it has led companies to grapple with whether they should take a stand on prominent issues.

The 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study explores the rise of belief-driven buyers, who will buy a brand, switch from it, avoid it and—at the extreme—boycott it based on a brand’s stance on a controversial issue. 

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Renshaw shared results at an event in Chicago. The study found 51% of those polled across the globe believe brands can do more than government to solve societal ills, and that can weigh heavily on brand loyalty as 50% of those surveyed said they make purchases based on those beliefs.

The survey also found:

  • 67% will buy a brand for the first time based solely on the brand’s position on a controversial topic.

  • 51% will be more loyal buyers of a brand that speaks up, compared with those that remain silent.

  • 48% will advocate for and defend a brand that speaks up and and criticize its competitors.

  • 23% will pay a 25% premium for a brand that supports their position.

  • 30% of people are buying or boycotting more than in 2014.

With silence no longer an option for most brands, Renshaw gave a few examples of companies successfully navigating these new waters. The key is to do more than issue a statement, but to show by actions first and foremost.

For instance, CVS chose to stop selling cigarettes and REI launched its “Opt Outside” call to not shop on Black Friday (a move that included its own stores closing for the day). 


Adidas partnered with the Swedish women's national football team to promote feminism, and Heineken brought people on opposite sides of the Brexit issuetogether over beer. “Let people buy into your beliefs,” Renshaw says.

Panelists at the event weighed in on the topic of brand trust as it relates to social issues. The panelists included Jano Cabrera, senior vice president of U.S. communications, global media and public relations at McDonald’s; Cathy Davis, CMO of Feeding America; Julie Howe, creative strategist at Facebook; and Chris Miller, digital vice president of global brand strategy and innovation at Abbott.


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Cabrera says McDonald’s decision to switch entirely to cage-free eggs in the future is part of its efforts to give consumers what they want. This has reverberations beyond the company, and he says consumers at large can expect to see more readily available cage-free eggs because of McDonald’s buying power. Coming from a political background, Cabrera says these messages matter. He likens consumers to voters, and says what matters is what the person believes in the moments they’re in the voting booth.

“What is your value proposition to your customer?” Cabrera asks.

Howe spoke of some recent missteps at Facebook, emphasizing the company's desire to remain transparent in rectifying problems. “We’re OK with not getting it right, but it’s not OK to wait,” she says.

While silence by companies on key issues is no longer an acceptable answer for many consumers, Cabrera cautioned against commenting on issues unrelated to the organization. He says McDonald’s is asked for comments frequently but will choose not to answer if there’s no relevance to what the brand does. Learning what to respond to depends on how deeply the company understands its brand.

“Just because you can answer it doesn’t mean you should,” Cabrera says.

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Author Bio:
Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.
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