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Published February 25th 2019

Moral Marketing: Working Out When a Brand Should Take a Stance on a Controversial Issue

Recent months have seen a whole bunch of brands take bold stances on politically charged societal issues. But should every brand be looking to launch such campaigns?

When should a brand take a strong stance on a politically charged issue?

It’s a question brand managers across all industries are beginning to ask themselves.

From sneakers to razors to bath bombs, consumer goods companies are being drawn further into the spotlight when it comes to taking a bold stand on particular societal problems.

It’s been done well

We’ve seen strong campaigns launched by the likes of Nike, Gillette and Lush in the last few months that have tackled big issues facing our society.

Nike saw a boost in their stock price after their ad starring activist Colin Kapaernick.

Gillette made waves with their recent The Best Men Can Be campaign that looks at toxic masculinity.

Lush saw an increase in sales after their #SpyCops campaign sparked controversy.

But there are easy-to-imagine situations and issues that brands probably shouldn’t get involved in.

How are brands supposed to decide whether it’s worth taking the plunge?

Making the calculations

In our recent report into what makes brand followings unique, we explored the political leanings of the sites particular brand’s followers share, and the causes they talk about.

For example, compared to other sports apparel brands Nike’s followers were most likely to share links from left-leaning news sites, and they tweeted most about minority rights.

This kind of research on how supportive your customer base might be of you backing a particular cause can form part of the calculations that go into making the final decision.

There are also considerations to make around risk – how might non-customers react to your stance? Will certain segments of your audience be unhappy?

It’s something we discuss with Michelle Goodall in our recent interview on moral marketing.

She told us: “You’ve got to really figure out where your brand’s territory is, what’s credible and relevant to your consumers and your audiences and what’s valuable to them, but then you’ve got to back it up with something that’s credible and relevant to you and your brand and your brand values.”

Meanwhile, walking the walk and laying strong foundations is important for ensuring your campaign doesn’t seem disingenuous. Authenticity is key.

Bringing it all together

Taking a stance is a daunting task, and no amount of research will fully prepare your brand for the reception a campaign like Nike’s or Gillette’s might get.

That said, it’s more important than ever for brands to define and live by their values. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ of issues that your brand and your customers care about that you could take a meaningful stance on is worth undertaking even if the action taken as a result is no campaign at all. It’s entirely feasible that your brand could be forced into the spotlight on a particular issue, and in today’s unforgiving environment there’s no excuse for a lack of preparation.

There are plenty of ways to begin looking at how your customers feel around certain issues, and starting with those that follow you on social media is a simple way to start.

You can find out more about this by downloading our free Brand Follower Report.

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