Date: 25 January 2019

P&G  recently stirred praise and backlash online following it’s Gillette advert  “The Best Men Can Be,” that called upon action against sexual harassment, misogyny, andbullying. In Kenya, a segment of the consumers viewed the advert as an attack on men’s masculinity and even went ahead to call for a boycottof Gillette with others posting pictures of them smashing the Gillette blades or even using alternative razor blades. But the backlash begs the question if consumers prefer brands that have a stand on social issues and it’s rippleeffect on sales. Never before have brands held so much influence over societal changes. A 2018 survey by Sprout Social, identified q66% of the customers recognize it’s important for brands to take public stands on socialand political issue. 

Interested: Championing Change in the Age of Social Media

Brands can win big in market positioning with campaigns that address the day’s social issues. It’s certainly a risky strategy but it can equally reward. Social responsibility marketing approach by Nike realized an increase in its stock by 5% and sales by 31% after a week of advertisement that took a stand against police brutality on black people in US. Nike’s experience reflects that brands face more rewards than risks when it comes to sharing their stand on societal issues. Easy to access social media makes it even convenient as microphones to convey a brand’s identity

Read Also: Mainstreaming Corporate Social Responsibility

Relevance is Key to Reception

Taking a stance on an issue that is directly aligned with the product or service that a business offers is imperative in realizing positiveeffects. But two companies can receive opposingreactions while responding tothe same issue- the approach matters. Responding to President Trump’s nation-dividing travel ban, Airbnb aired an advert that boldly declared the ban unwarranted, “we believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” As well the company went ahead to pledge short-term housing and $4 million to Internationalrescue team in aid to the globally displaced. On the contrary, Uber created a firestorm by defying a call by New York City Taxi Workers Alliance to halt rides in solidarity with immigrant detainees at the John F. Kennedy airport as a consequence of travel ban. Despite Uber committing $3 million defensefund to help cover the legal expenses associated with the travel ban executive order, the users remained angered with even celebrities threatening to delete the app and opt-in toUber’s competitors. 


But it’s not just staying in the conversation that matters, but relevance is vital to attract reception and avoid backlash. The 2018 survey by Sprout Social reports that consumers view brands as most credible they impact their customers (47%), employees (40%) and business operations (31%). Whilesome social responsibility themed ads have received immense support, and message well delivered home, others have attracted intense condemnation to even necessitate pulling out. The trivial question for consumers is “Why should I care”?, while the trivial question for the brand is “Did this message resonate?”

Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad received widespread condemnation that saw the ad pulled down as the critics argued that the advert trivialized widespread protests against the police brutality on black people whilst Pepsi claims the advert intended to project a global message of peace, unity, andunderstanding. Arguably, Pepsi was trying to offer a solution to the problem, but other multinationals that have taken a stand on Social Issues by providing a bridge for discussion, which was the case with Heineken’s“Worlds Apart” social-experiment-turned-TV-commercial. As opposed to the disastrous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, Heineken’s ad demonstrated that companies could tackle tough cultural issues the right way.

See also: Winning by taking a social stand

Nevertheless, brands cannot please everybody in today’s market less they become invisible.  While controversial Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad earned $6 billion increase in Nike’s overall value, it’s share initially marked a 2.5% lower with Twitterhashtags such as #BoycottNike and #JustBurnit have gainedsignificant traction. With every social stand, a brand will have upset users, with some customers disappearing while others becoming passionate. So alienating some of the customers due to social stand could be worthwhile.

Staying out of the social conversation is no longer an option