Do Brands Win by Taking Stands on Social Issues?

As we scrolled through all those creative variations on the Human Rights Campaign‘s viral marriage equality avatar last week, we wondered: how often do brands benefit when taking specific stands on social issues? How often do such moves truly damage public perceptions? This isn’t a new debate, of course: last year everyone speculated about the effect that Chick-Fil-A’s official anti-gay status would have on its overall business. The answer in that case seems to have been “very little” — but what about other brands? Some choose to define themselves with bold stances, but most shy away.

Oh, and here’s‘s version of the meme:

A majority of participants in a related Digiday poll have already said that brands should make clear where they stand on the sociopolitical debates of the day because customers “want to know the POV of [their] favorite brands”. Facebook‘s data on the topic is even more compelling.

As you figured out while browsing your news feed, far more Facebook users changed their profile pictures last Tuesday than any other Tuesday. More significantly, users in their teens, 20s and 30s — the very audiences that brands want to reach — were much more likely than others to change their pics in order to reflect their personal support for same-sex marriage.

We may be getting slightly ahead of ourselves here, but we don’t see how the act of making a statement on this particular social issue constitutes a significant risk for big brands — unless those brands have actively supported contradictory positions in the past. A fair number of Bud Light drinkers obviously do not support the same-sex marriage movement, but the number of fans who shunned the company after its social media team posted this image last week is small enough to be meaningless:

In short, brands that take sides in controversial social debates (at least the ones related to same-sex marriage) are significantly more likely to benefit from this support than to suffer for it.