PRWeek/Morning Consult: Time for brands to hold their tongues on (some) hot topics

Most consumers don't actually care about a brand's stance on political or cultural issues, according to the inaugural PRWeek/Morning Consult Consumer Purpose Survey released this morning at Davos.

Protests outside a Chick-fil-A in Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Protests outside a Chick-fil-A in Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND: Most U.S. consumers don’t want companies to take a stand on hot-button social and political topics, according to a PRWeek and Morning Consult poll.

The Consumer Purpose Survey, conducted this month among 2,201 adults in the U.S., found that 53% of respondents said brands should avoid getting involved in political or cultural issues. Fewer than half of those surveyed, 44%, said they care about the stances of brands from which they purchase products. 

One-third of respondents have stopped buying products as a result of a brand stance. Liberals (47%), high earners (43%) and Baby Boomers (39%) are the most likely to boycott, the poll found.

Speaking out can sometimes yield positive results for a brand. Roughly one in five (21%) respondents have spent money to support a brand because of a political or social stance it has adopted. Consumers aged 18 to 29 are the most likely to do so (28%).

"There is a terrific amount of variation and support for brands taking positions on different issues," said Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult cofounder and chief research officer.  

In terms of issues that the public doesn’t mind brands talking about, consumers are most likely to support companies discussing equal pay (74%), healthcare access (71%) and the environment (70%). In fact, consumers said brands aren’t doing enough to address issues such as the environment (47%), equal pay (46%) mental health reform (45%), healthcare access (45%) and climate change (43%). 

Other issues don’t enjoy widespread support as brand talking points. Only one-third of respondents said they would have a positive view of a company speaking out about police brutality. Consumers are most likely to oppose brands speaking out about President Donald Trump (41%) and the U.S.-Mexico border wall (37%). 

The PRWeek and Morning Consult poll findings contrasted with data from other recent studies from Aflac, Edelman and WE Communications that show most consumers want and expect brands to take a stand on hot-button issues. 

Most consumers said that if a company decides to take a stand, divisive or not, the subject matter should make sense for a brand. Sixty percent care about the authenticity of a brand from which they purchase goods or services, according to the poll.  

"Consumers will be willing to forgive companies that take a stance they might be opposed to if the company is doing it in a way that seems authentic," said Dropp.

Most respondents (53%) said they would prefer corporations act responsibly and ethically, but are willing to overlook those issues if a company offers a product they like at the right price. 

More than half of consumers said it is important for companies to have a mission beyond making a profit and that they would prefer to work for such an employer.

A brand’s biggest priorities should be offering affordable pricing and products (26%), their employees (19%) and customer service (18%), those surveyed said. Brands should also understand what their core stakeholder audiences think about hot-button issues, said Dropp. 

"We asked Americans how important a range of features are for companies," he said. "Authenticity and mission come up time and time again as a point that consumers and adults care about deeply."

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