“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” urges the latest iteration of Nike’s long-running ‘Just Do It’ campaign, marking the 30th anniversary of the famous tagline.
The text on that advertisement frames the face of American footballer Colin Kaepernick, a polarising figure who controversially protested against racial injustice in the US by not standing up for the national anthem at the start of a game. By aligning with Kaepernick’s stand against racial injustice and police brutality in the US, the sports giant made its point of view on a contentious issue clear.
Nike is not alone. Today, brands are increasingly presenting themselves as ‘influencers’ on the pressing issues in society. Many align their point of view to topics that affect the lives of consumers, be that climate change, racial injustice, police brutality or immigration. However, to what extent do the perceptions and purchasing decisions of consumers really depend upon a brand’s point of view?
Purpose is arguably the new brand currency. Telling a powerful story is the most effective way to create a deeper emotional connection with customers. In the light of this, new research from YouGov presented at the Festival of Marketing seeks to examine whether brands choosing to take a side on a particular issue is a worthwhile strategy.
Brands’ social role
Speaking at the Festival, YouGov’s UK head of data products Amelia Brophy discussed the nuances of consumer attitudes towards brands that have a social voice. The company’s research into the topic – in the form of a transatlantic white paper – works to uncover how consumers feel about brands that seek to express a point of view on contentious social issues.
“What does the consumer think about brands using these issues?” asks Brophy. “Are they receptive to them and is it something that as marketers we should consider doing to really help us get our point across?”
The role of brands in society is a strong theme that comes out of the research. Is it important for brands to have a clear point of view on the wider issues in society?
Nike had a customer base that was ripe for a campaign that spoke to a social issue.
Amelia Brophy, YouGov
The data gives an uncertain picture: 42% of British people like brands that are willing to get involved in social issues and 52% of British people believe a brand should be able to express an opinion on a certain topic. “What this tells us is that there is also a whole group of people who are unengaged or disinterested, don’t really care when a brand gets involved on a social issue or don’t like it,” comments Brophy.
“So already when we are talking about consumers at a high level like this is shows us that it is an area that marketers should be cautious going into.”
Yet the data also demonstrates a reason for some brands to pursue a strategy of taking a stand on a polarising topic. When the research delves deeper into why brands should get involved in social issues, the story becomes richer. ‘I want to trust the brands that I interact with’ is a top choice for why consumers would want companies to state their views.
“When consumers are looking at brands to take a position on a social issue, part of that is about them understanding the brand more so that they can decide if it is a brand they can trust,” comments Brophy.
Risk versus reward
Brands should not embark on this type of cause marketing strategy lightly, the report suggests, and having a point of view on a contentious issue can be dangerous territory for them to enter into. The receptiveness of consumers towards brands having a point of view on contentious issues varies greatly between different groups.
Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick was hugely controversial, prompting slews of people to post videos of themselves on social media, burning Nike products along with the hashtag #JustBurnIt.
However, as YouGov reveals, that stand on the issues of racism and police brutality was well placed for Nike. Data on American Nike customers finds that the majority of them like it when companies have a message and they like brands that are willing to get involved on social issues.
What is striking about the Nike advertisement, says Brophy, is how confident the brand was on putting out a campaign that it knew would resonate with its consumer as well as have a negative fall-out. “Nike has taken a really calculated risk here,” she says. “Nike had a customer base that was ripe for a campaign that spoke to a social issue that those consumers believed in.”
Ultimately, what society wants is for brands to be authentic. “These themes of honesty, genuineness, consistency and trustworthiness just keep coming through,” says Brophy. “Really the centre of this issue is that consumers want brands that they can trust.”