People Apparently Don’t Want Brands to Take a Stance on Political Issues, Study Says

Creative agency DNA Seattle surveyed Americans ahead of next year’s election

cartoon of person voting with confused facial expression, thoughts in word bubbles
A recent survey found that the majority of Americans want brands to build 'common ground' in today's politically divisive environment.
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It appears as though people want more brands to channel their inner Ellen DeGeneres.

According to a study conducted by creative agency DNA Seattle that surveyed 2,000 Americans, 54% of respondents agree on some level that brands should help build common ground and avoid taking sides. Additionally, more than half at least somewhat agree that too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell their product or services.

“Just as political candidates are courting independent votes, brands can broaden their relevance to more people by championing common ground than by firmly planting a flag on the side of any single issue or candidate,” Alan Brown, CEO and co-founder of DNA Seattle, said in a statement.

The study also found that the “state of our political system and political division” is seen as the third most important issue facing the U.S., following child safety and privacy. Even so, 35% reported that they are sick of hearing about politics, while 36% said talking about political issues with people they disagree with is “stressful and frustrating”—which could in part explain why people are looking to brands to unite, rather than further divide, the country.

DNA Seattle’s study is the latest in a string of reports that have attempted to take the pulse of consumers as next year’s election looms. While some support the agency’s findings, others argue that consumers increasingly want brands to take action on political and social issues.

Christine Wise, chief strategy officer at DNA Seattle, said that some brands can get away with aligning themselves alongside a particular cause. “It often depends on the authenticity of the brand and the issue. For specific demographics, a brand taking a strong political stance can be seen as very positive,” she said, explaining that young, urban and more liberal audiences tend to be more receptive to brands taking a side.

For example, she highlighted Patagonia as a brand that has successfully managed to take a political stance. (The outdoor apparel brand, which has a history of donating money to environmental causes, condemned the Trump administration’s tax cuts last year by donating the $10 million it saved from them to environmental groups.)

However, she said that many people “have a degree of skepticism about brand activism.” She pointed to Saturday Night Live’s parody of brand purpose marketing, which featured Cheetos execs trying to incorporate immigration and transgender issues into their advertising, as evidence that people are wary of brands taking a stance on subjects they have no authority on.

“The fact that it was even a [spoof] speaks to the fact that people are noticing opportunistic cause marketing,” Wise said.

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