More consumers want brands to take a stand on social issues

A recent Edelman study on consumer-brand relationships shows buying habits are becoming increasingly influenced by people's personal beliefs.

Minutes before sitting down to write this column, I bought two pairs of Nike running shoes. It had nothing to do with Colin Kaepernick or supporting an agenda. The threads on my old pair were wearing thin, and I’m used to Nike’s shoes, so I’m fairly confident the cushioning won’t hurt my awkward and unathletic feet. And the significant markdown didn’t hurt, either.

However, new data suggests I may be in the minority on this kind of purchasing process. According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand Study, most consumers are checking their gut as much as their wallets when making a buying decision. The research found 64% of consumers around the world are "belief-driven" buyers, including 59% in the U.S. The U.S. percentage is up 12 points from last year. In short, belief-driven buyers can be defined as people who believe brands should take a stand on important issues.

Edelman compiled the data for this report on July 20, well before Nike made Kaepernick the narrator of its Just Do It 30th anniversary campaign and Levi Strauss embraced gun control.

Other studies are sure to look at the impact of those risks, but I’m guessing they’ll show minimal negative impact for brands that take a stand.

Since giving Kaepernick a starring role, despite no NFL team offering him a starting job in over two seasons, Nike’s share price hit an all-time high mid-September, up 5% since first revealing the campaign.

Taken together, it’s easy to draw a conclusion from the two data sets: Consumers want brands to take a stand on the issues that relate to them and are willing to reward companies when they do. It also shows relatively small numbers of angry customers burning their shoes on YouTube have a lot more bark than bite.

Will Nike prompt other brands to take a stand on social issues? Likely. Will some go a step too far by embracing a completely unrelated issue and pay the price? Also likely. But numbers both from the stock market and agency research show brands shouldn’t be afraid of offending small groups of customers over causes they believe in when it’s a perfect fit — like I hope these running shoes will be.

Frank Washkuch is news editor at PRWeek.

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