Making a Statement

BY Sarah Stein // Content Marketing Copywriter

Should brands speak up or stay quiet on social issues

Nike, Airbnb, P&G, Patagonia, Dick’s Sporting Goods. 

These brands have made bold moves when it comes to taking a stance on social and political issues ranging from racism to climate change and gun control. Consumers have come to expect a handful of brands to publicly support or denounce an issue because that’s the foundation they’ve built the brand on. (Most notably, Patagonia) Others have been surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, to find brands that have historically kept a low profile chiming in on social, cultural or political movements. 

Many brands are feeling pressure from Millennials and Gen Z to speak up and take a stand on the issues that they, the world’s most powerful consumers, care most about. It’s a precarious path to navigate considering this group can easily sniff out and call out brands that are neither transparent nor humble in their approach. 

For powerful companies, staying neutral on an issue that’s been forced into the spotlight could be even more risky than making a statement. Remaining silent could be viewed as being apathetic or detached. But as we’ve learned, a breezy, generic message of “solidarity” isn’t what these generations are looking for either. You’re either in or you’re out.

We’ve seen plenty of companies test the waters of making a statement, whether directly through advertising efforts, on social media, or through the voices of their top executives. Some have come out on top, while others have struggled to regain their footing after their attempts to resonate back-fired. 

How do brands decide whether they should get involved? Is taking a stand worth it despite the risk of alienating certain groups? I could sum up the rest of my thoughts by simply stating, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” But there’s a bit more to go along with that.

Looking in the mirror is a good place to start. 

Brands must be confident in who they are and fully grasp the consequences of their actions. How would making this statement ladder up to overarching values? Does it enable them to stay true to the mission of the company? Any statement made will become part of their identity, thus, it is a decision that impacts the entire company, touching every person associated.

Not only do brands need to know who they are, they need to know who their stakeholders are and what they believe in. 

Consumers have more information, more choices and more powerful ways to express their sentiment than ever before. If you’re going to be outspoken about a topic, make sure it’s for the right reason, not just because it’s a “hot” topic of discussion in the moment. Your stakeholders look to the brand for authenticity. That said, if the statement you make is regarding a controversial issue, make sure you understand exactly what percentage of your audience you potentially stand to lose.

Walk the walk. 

Maybe your brand wants to match a monetary donation to a charitable organization. Maybe you want to develop an entire campaign dedicated to fighting social injustice. Keep in mind your words have weight, and your stakeholders will be looking to see how you back them up. Create a strong, yet reasonable, action plan, with clear goals and benchmarks, then most importantly, follow through.

What we’ve come to learn is that companies can make a meaningful impact on society with a plan that is conscious-led, brand-aligned, and committed to acting on their promises. It’s the right of a company to make the decision to use their power to support a cause that benefits the greater good. It’s also their right to remain silent. What legacy they choose to leave behind is up to them.