Consumers don’t want brands to speak out — except for the ones who do

Americans’ interest in corporate advocacy is divided across demographic lines, making social issues harder to handle for brands.

It’s well-established that corporations are having a miserable time figuring out how to handle divisive social issues — but how about us? What of the consumers reading those sterilized statements put through layers of lawyers and PR pros before rolling our eyes, shrugging, or, y’know, rioting?

brand statement consumer polling

As Americans’ favorite brands try to not alienate them with cultural stances, they’re getting mixed signals about whether people actually want those stances.

There’s no such thing as a consensus

The tricky part for brands: The appetite for brand advocacy is changing quickly across demographics — and highlighting the disconnect between younger consumers and the older executives running many top companies.

Before covid, the numbers were straightforward: A clear majority (61% overall) had no interest in corporations weighing in on social issues, per Morning Consult. That clarity went away in 2020 as more Americans, led by young adults, wanted more from brands.

Today, the data shows a slight retreat from the “let’s hear from the companies” push; while Gen Z and millennials still favor corporate activism, Gen X and boomers have cooled on the idea.

  • This is all echoed by a Bentley-Gallup poll, which found a similar overall drop — 41% of Americans want brands to take public stances on social causes, down from 48% last year — but it also found consumers under 30, and those who identify as LGBTQ+, Black, and/or Asian, favoring corporate advocacy.

A workaround for weary US businesses

Companies hoping to skip the blanket statements may be able to simply look inward instead.

Morning Consult’s survey found one universal belief: the expectation that companies take care of their employees. Ninety percent of Americans said brands’ treatment of employees is important to them, outpacing the importance of being “socially responsible” or holding shared values.

  • Respondents said internal actions, like paying employees well and equally, impacted their views of a company more than external advocacy.

This shouldn’t be surprising: The companies topping “most-reputable” lists every year — think: Patagonia, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Chick-fil-A — have also struggled with PR around divisive issues, but have managed to rise above it given their reputations for happier-than-average employees.

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